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Unknown [Warner Home Video]

Column: The Word on DVDs   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 5 July 11   |   Author: Justin Hook   |   3 years, 4 months ago

In 2008’s grim but effective surprise hit Taken, Liam Neeson reversed a couple of decades worth of roles that had him pigeonholed as the dependable Irish dude who could hold a picture (Kinsey, Rob Roy), or the guy you threw in to add a layer of respectability (those Star Wars films, Love Actually). Taken introduced Liam Neeson as the OAP Jason Bourne – the 55-year-old action hero knocking off Albanian sex slave traders with dour steely eyed intent. He’s obviously enjoying his mid career jaunt through fists and guns territory, and as a professional boxer in earlier years Neeson has the body and stamina to make it work.

In Unknown he plays plant fiddler Dr Martin Harris, in Berlin giving a keynote presentation at a botanist conference with his wife in tow (Mad Men’s January Jones solidifying her ability to stand in position and dolefully recite lines). After realising his briefcase has been left at the airport he scurries back only to wind up half-dead in a river after his taxi careens off a bridge. Four days in a coma leaves Harris struggling to piece together the fragments in his shattered mind. He knows he’s married but that’s about it – no passport, no documents and a killer headache. Returning to his hotel he confronts his wife only to be snubbed – she has no idea who this impostor is. Indeed she already has another Dr Martin Harris under her arm proving once and for all, trophy wives shouldn’t be trusted alone in cosmopolitan German cities.

The third act turns everything upside down and a shape-shifting spy action thriller emerges; one that plays a few cute tricks and requests some pretty large suspensions of belief. Nevertheless Unknown is an efficient action thriller in a genre bloated with films lacking verve, wit or tension.

Inside Job [Sony Pictures Classics]:

Inside Job [Sony Pictures Classics]

Earlier this year when Inside Job won the Oscar for Best Documentary, its director Charles Ferguson launched into an excoriating speech reminding the crowd that three years after one of the most damaging financial crises in contemporary history not one single person had been charged or sent to prison for the damage inflicted. You could feel portions of the crowd shift in their seats. After watching this you’ll be more than seat shuffling. You’ll be screaming and breaking windows.

Docos unpicking the financial maelstrom that began in 2008 abound, yet there have been remarkably few succinct and digestible explanations of what actually happened. This is one of them. It’s also the best. It tells a complex story (most industry participants have no idea how credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations work) with comparative simplicity, without skimping on detail. It also gained extraordinary access to central players in the global financial community. George Soros, Eliot Spitzer, DSK (!!!) and his successor at the IMF, Christine Lagarde all appear, usually responding with blush-inducing candour. Even though Inside Job is a polemic and plays as an impassioned screed against corporate malfeasance, it highlights that both sides of politics buckled under the lobbying power, walking away from tighter market regulation.

It’s the sort of film that demands repeat viewings. It also fills many gaps in the story; in a series of stunning exchanges it exposes the empty heart of economic academia, laying bare the utter conflict of interest between academics in the pocket of investment banks. It’s impossible not to recoil in horror.

With Greece still in serial default and the US asking for a few trillion more on the Amex card this doco couldn’t be more current. Inside Job deserved its Academy Award. The only problem was it should have won Best Picture as well. 

Whites – Season One [BBC]:

Written by Matt King (Super Hans from Peep Show) and starring Alan Davies (regular QI panelist and magician-turned-detective Jonathan Creek), Whites should have been a hilarious and pithy look into the life of a brilliant chef on the verge of cracking the big leagues. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

 The show follows Roland White (Davies), an amazing but lazy chef, who is trying to achieve success, and a Michelin star, before he gets too far past his use by date. He is supported by a long-suffering sous chef (superbly played by Darren Boyd), a reckless and sneaky apprentice, a very dopey waitress, an irritable but ultimately supportive restaurant manager, and a wealthy hotel owner who must be kept happy at all costs.

The character development in Whites is impressive, with each character revealing their personality and, subtly, their motives for various actions. The amount of character development, however, makes for quite a slow moving show.

There are some genuinely funny scenes. Of particular note is the scene in which the waitress takes an order for an eggless omelet, and cannot understand why the chefs are unable to fill said order.

Where Whites falls down is the predictability of the writing. The way in which an episode is going to end is apparent from early on in the majority of episodes – meaning you’re just waiting for it to happen, rather than anticipating a twist or looking forward to finding out the resolution.

Perhaps a second season would be more enjoyable – with the character development out of the way, episodes could have more room to move. Unfortunately, we’ll never know as the show was not well received and BBC has not commissioned any more episodes.

Overall, it was a good try from King and Davies, however both have done better in the past. 

 

 

 





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