For a film complete with high-speed car chases, conspiracy theories, a bout of amnesia and the uncertainty of losing one’s sanity, Liam Neeson’s latest action thriller, “Unknown,” attempts to cover the formulaic bases of a satisfying suspense film. Unfortunately, while the snow swirls around Berlin’s historic landmarks, the film’s plot and momentum spiral into a foggy mess of unrewarding absurdity.
Attempting to combine elements of “The Bourne Identity” and Neeson’s twisty-turny thriller “Taken,” “Unknown” follows Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”) as he awakens from a car accident to find his identity has been stolen from him.
While attending a conference in Berlin with his wife, played by a lifeless January Jones (“Mad Men”), he returns to his hotel after a four-day coma only to find that neither his wife nor his closest friends claim to know who he is. Attempting to sort out the facts, Neeson must uncover the answers to what could be a highly elaborate conspiracy, or accept the possibility that he really has gone mad.
Disappointingly, for a film that poses such a seemingly simple and intriguing plot, it flounders from the weight of a lifeless script and complete lack of momentum. Liam Neeson is predictably, well, Liam Neeson, as he makes every attempt at getting his life back, always with a father-like self-assurance. As the plot takes us deeper and deeper into the tangled web of confusion, the complete lack of energy makes even the most dramatic fight-scenes yawn-worthy. Who would have thought that a freight train smashing into cars down the streets of Berlin could be so boring? Better leave that kind of excitement to “Inception.”
Attempting to find answers to his shocking situation, Neeson finds his only hope in the young and beautiful cab driver who saved his life after the coma-inducing car crash, played by the lovely Diane Kruger (“Inglorious Basterds”).
Her character’s transition from justified suspicion to naive trustworthiness and dedication to Neeson’s character and his cause is a little far-fetched, but her purposeful performance is the only one that gives the movie any kind of life. Jones, on the other hand, is Kruger’s complete opposite, delivering her lines with monotone insincerity that’s much more fitting coming from the subtly bitter character she plays on “Mad Men.” In “Unknown,” she is inanimate and boring, making one wonder why Neeson wants her to remember him so badly.
At one hour and 49 minutes, the film feels like 3 hours as it drags along without giving any answers. It’s only in the final 20 minutes or so that the film reveals the true “twist,” which leaves the audience more unfulfilled than ever. It’s unrewarding and ludicrous, making all the characters (with the exception of Kruger) even more unlikeable. What’s more, the film attempts to wrap things up with a suspense-building “A-ha!” moment, when really, it’s a weak explanation to an even more anticlimactic film.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who brought us one of the more original horror movies of 2010 with “Orphan,” the film’s graceful cinematography and color scheme might be one of the only rewarding things to take away from “Unknown.”
It’s enjoyable to watch, and as a team, Kruger and Neeson actually have some genuine chemistry. Unfortunately, “Unknown” has been done before, as most elements of the plot are recycled and have been done much better in past films.
“Unknown” attempts to create a hybrid of what we love most in suspense thrillers, yet by its end, none of the pieces come together successfully. With an intriguing plot and team of seemingly likeable actors, “Unknown” simply fails at giving audiences anything original to enjoy, making this film one to be forgotten.
2 out of 5 stars