DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Unknown

Saturday 2 July 2011


Unknown (2011) dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Bruno Ganz


By Alan Bacchus

It’s odd that Liam Neeson has turned into an international action star. Well thanks to the curious success of Taken, an awful movie, that somehow tapped into the audience’s healthy appetite for stories of ordinary men on rampages of revenge, kicking ass and taking names, Liam Neeson is experiencing a nice new career.

In Unknown, Neeson has considerably less fighting to do, but he’s still in the same scenario as in Taken – a regular American in a foreign place, with everyone conspiring around him fighting to find his wife and claim his identity. Two-thirds of the film is exciting, but the rest, the ending, fails us. But we still have Liam Neeson's commanding presence, his awesome nose and sideways profile to behold, and a few ass-kickings as well to satisfy our appetite for destruction.

Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris who arrives in Berlin with his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones) to speak at an international biomedical conference. At the customs desk, he realizes he’s forgotten his bag and thus goes back to retrieve it. But Martin’s cab gets into an accident, putting him in the hospital and in a coma for days. When he wakes up, somehow he’s not who he thought he was. Someone else (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place as Dr. Martin Harris. Even when he confronts his wife at the conference she claims not to know him.

It’s a beguiling setup. A great high concept tease. Is Martin hallucinating? Is he in some kind of psychedelic dream? Or is he just plain going crazy? As Martin pieces together his life, he ropes in the lovely female cab driver (Diane Kruger) for help as well as old Stasi retiree (Bruno Ganz) who now uses his investigative skills to do some good in his old age.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra's handsome visuals and elegantly-shot Berlin locales adds a wonderful Cold War spy thriller flavour. The Third Man is the benchmark to reach for the use of location as character in this type of film, and Unknown certainly does NOT reach these heights, but the coldness of the city, and the spectre of the clandestine spy games of old helps create a creepy mood.

Unfortunately with such a teasing set-up, the film needs to explain in a somewhat believeable manner how a sane man can have his identity erased. The writers, Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell working from Didier Van Cauwelaert’s novel, never really make the explaination as exciting or satisfactory as the lead up. The third act revelations twist us in new direction, something in the realm The Manchurian Candidate, linking all the other character involved in Harris’s journey, but it’s all forgettable maguffin-like plotting.

Liam Neeson does get to kick some Euro-ass, not a lot, and he also gets to engage in a decent car chase and hang around with hotter younger gals like January Jones and Diane Kruger, not to mention drink Guinness with his old buddy Aidan Quinn from Michael Collins. And with the decent box office success, not an althogether bad film to be involved with.

Unknown is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Home Entertainment

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