Unknown - Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, written by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell, based on the novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert, starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, and Bruno Ganz - Rated PG-13
This movie isn't good...it isn't bad...it's just there.
Unknown is a completely average psychological thriller that is not likely to stick around in anyone’s memory, but it is passable entertainment for a matinee. The previews for the film try to sell Unknown as a Taken sequel, but fans of that film will be disappointed. (For the record, I’ve never understood the popularity of Taken, which I found to be an average action film at best.) Unknown does feature a lead performance from Liam Neeson, however, and that counts for something.
Neeson plays Martin Harris, a doctor visiting Berlin to take part in a symposium on plants and crop engineering. Before he can make it there he is involved in a car wreck that leaves him in a coma. When Martin wakes up, he finds that his wife (January Jones) doesn’t seem to remember him and another man is claiming to be Martin Harris. This sets up the central conflict of the film: who is Martin Harris? Needless to say, Neeson spends the entire movie trying to figure that out as he questions those around him and even himself.
The uncertainty of the lead character does allow Unknown it’s only bit of style. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is able to create a real sense of disorientation throughout. It makes the early portions of the film quite effective. Unfortunately, the film devolves into a Bourne Identity wannabe later on with a few frenetic car chases and fight scenes.
Unknown stays slightly afloat thanks to Neeson. He has always had great screen presence and while he’s not doing anything particularly impressive in this unlikely “aged action hero” phase, he is still fun to watch. Diane Kruger makes for a decent unlikely accomplice, but it is Bruno Ganz who enlivens the film with an eccentric performance as a relic of the Cold War. Frank Langella also makes an appearance later on, but is not given much to do. The weakest part of the cast is Jones. She may be perfectly suited in her role on “Mad Men” but she is completely out of place in a film like this. At no point is she truly believable and at times her acting is poor enough to be distracting.
This is mainly a film about the mystery and as far as that goes, it does keep you guessing. Well, maybe not guessing, but the film does remain interesting throughout. There may be a few things left slightly open, but a close viewing will show that everything does get tied up, even if there are some questions that would lead to some plot holes. Unknown isn’t meant to be closely inspected, though.
As an action film, however, Unknown fails quite miserably and it is even boring at times. Neeson’s investigation is a slow, uninteresting process for the most part and the stakes of the film are revealed a bit too late. Until you’re aware of what is going on, it’s hard to care about this mystery.
There’s not much else to say about Unknown, and that might be the most telling aspect of the film. Plus, it’s hard to discuss some of the film’s larger faults without spoiling it. There’s just not much here. It’ll pass a couple hours and you might enjoy a bit of that time, but you probably won’t remember it for very long.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
This movie is similar to plenty of other thrillers about mistaken identity and/or memory loss, but what stuck out to me were the similarities to Total Recall. Except that film was left a bit more open to argument. This movie is problematic in that Neeson regains his memory, but doesn’t regain his personality. That didn’t make sense to me. So he remembers that he was once a cold-blooded assassin, but doesn’t remember why? He just decided to be good? That needed a bit more development, in my opinion. It would’ve been interesting to at least see a struggle within when he realized who he once was, rather than just an instant condemnation of his past actions and an immediate chance for salvation. Oh, and what a punishment, he trades in January Jones for Diane Kruger. And why is Kruger okay with running off with a killer? Sure, he’s fine now, but is it not crossing her mind that he might revert back or that maybe he’s actually lying about everything?
Jones may have been terrible, but at least she gets blown up.
Why didn’t the replacement Harris just pull Neeson to the side and explain what had happened? Why did they mess with him? Why wasn’t he taken out immediately? Why was such a bumbling assassin sent after him? I know, I know, if these issues were dealt with then the movie would have only been thirty minutes long, but some of these questions could have been addressed.
And Neeson is all about saving…corn? I didn’t care for Taken all that much, but “Give me back my daughter!” is a bit more compelling than “Give me back that genetically altered strain of super-corn!”