Who knew Liam Neeson could be a gritty action star? We all have been learning that lesson over the last few years. More on that later. On to the matter at hand, his latest film ‘Unknown.’
Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones). He is there to attend a technology summit which promises to unveil some huge revelations. Martin forgets his briefcase at the airport, realizes his error when they arrive at the hotel and takes a taxi back to the airport. The cab is driven by a woman named Gina (Diane Kruger). Unfortunately, Gina isn’t the best driver and the vehicle goes off of a bridge and into a river. Martin hits his head and loses consciousness, but thankfully Gina saves him from drowning. Upon waking in the hospital, Martin’s memory is far from 100 percent.
When he gets back to the hotel, it seems as though there is another man (Aidan Quinn) claiming to be him. This imposter also has proper documentation which is baffling. His wife also doesn’t seem to recognize him. The next step is to find Gina to see what she remembers and to get help from his old friend Professor Rodney Cole (Frank Langella). This leads Martin to a former Stasi agent, Herr Jurgen (Bruno Ganz).
We follow Martin as he pieces his life back together. How can he prove to everyone that he is the real Martin Harris? Who would do this to him and why? What’s with the creepy guys that seem to be following him?
There will be ample comparison with another recent Liam Neeson film, ‘Taken.’ The look is certainly similar but whereas that was a straightforward rescue/revenge tale, this is a tricky psychological thriller. Granted it’s overly slick and not that suspenseful, but it’s plenty deceptive. The viewer may begin to feel almost as frustrated as Martin does. Who in this story is trustworthy? Turns out, fewer characters than you might think.
Many of the ‘dark forces’ in this tale are fleeting characters. They enter and exit the story after a little while, implying that everything is happening on a larger scale than previously thought.
While there are some surprises in the film, there isn’t a lot of originality to its structure and characters. There are some scenes that seem perfunctory. The action sequences are very important as far as keeping your attention, and there is a nice car chase halfway through, but you can predict when these scenes are coming. We are dealing with a very clear formula, especially for the first three quarters of the story.
As an unimportant side note: isn’t it dangerous to use a defibrillator while both you and the patient are in a puddle? Maybe not, but it seems like it could be.
Liam Neeson is, of course, a fine lead. Kruger is alright as well, though her affected Bosnian accent seems to dip into a German one every so often. Langella is very good in the very little screen time he has but Aidan Quinn is only allowed to argue that he is the real Martin Harris. Bruno Ganz is a real standout.
Special features include: a brief look behind the scenes.
Even though it has a lot more going on in it than ‘Taken’ did, that doesn’t make ‘Unknown’ a better movie. For all of its twists and turns, it lacks a visceral appeal that the former picture had. This film has enough secrets to make it a mildly amusing diversion. Expect it to be only slightly above average and you’ll be well prepared.
Rated PG-13 113 minutes 2011
‘Unknown’ is available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley, and beyond.