Unknown throws Liam Neeson back into a role that introduced him to a whole new generation. The part he plays here is almost identical to the one that he took on in Taken, a film in which Neeson plays a seemingly normal man who is thrust into a dangerous situation and is forced to become a killer. It’s a part that Neeson is good at and one that the producers on Unknown clearly wanted to cash in on.
Unknown has Neeson playing Dr. Martin Harris, who along with his wife Liz (January Jones), travels to Berlin, Germany for a biotechnology summit. Once they arrive, Martin leaves Liz at the hotel to make a quick trip back to the airport to get his briefcase which he left there. A cab driver named Gina (Diane Kruger) takes Martin back but while on the road, they get in a horrific car accident.
When Martin awakens, Gina is gone and he finds himself in a hospital bed. He immediately heads back to the hotel to find Liz and explain to her what happened. When he arrives, he sees his wife with another man and he goes to confront her. She claims to not know who he is and she calls security.
Worse yet is that Liz claims the man she is with is the real Martin Harris. Confused and unsure of what to do, Harris leaves the hotel and sets out to discover just what the heck is going on, why Liz claims to have never met him and why someone else has taken his identity.
Unknown has all the makings of a good thriller. We get the intriguing plot, a badass Liam Neeson, a foreign country setting and a seemingly unsolvable mystery. Admittedly, parts of the film work rather well and the first half is quite good and especially promising. It’s only once the film starts to unravel and answers are revealed that things start to go south. You see, Unknown suffers from the same problem that so many thrillers before it have, it tries to be too clever for its own good. The film loses its credibility as it progresses and by the time the credits roll, you are left utterly confused.
As the film goes on, it becomes incomprehensible and by the end it has totally fallen apart. The twists are too preposterous and the plot holes are too plentiful. Working off a script that has zero accountability for its plot decisions, director Jaume Collet-Serra is rendered helpless in his own film. He tries his best to stage exciting action but the absolute asinine plot is just too big of a problem. When the narrative backing your film is completely far-fetched, it’s hard to engage the audience. Unknown plays out like an Alfred Hitchcock film gone bad. Actually, make that very bad.
As mentioned before, Unknown sees Liam Neeson returning yet again to the action/thriller genre, something he has become quite fond of. As effective as he is here, it’s hard not to yearn for his glory days when he gave us films like Schindler’s List and Michael Collins.
Like in Taken, he puts up a badass front as he growls and barks orders but I’m still confused as to why he keeps making films like this. It’s not that he’s particularly bad in the role, because he’s not. He makes for a believable action hero but he could be using his talents for much better purposes.
As for January Jones, she’s a terrible actress. I really don’t understand what the big deal about her is. She has that same blandness here that she has in Mad Men and she emits zero emotion. It’s awful to watch and at times even frustrating. Jones is literally like a robot here and she kills every scene she’s in. She tries to give off her best Grace Kelly or Eva Marie Saint circa their Hitchcock days but she’s far less effective.
Diane Kruger isn’t terribly useful here either. She’s not a bad actress but her character is underwritten and not fully realized, which is completely the script’s fault. She’s underused and like Jones, her only purpose here seems to be standing around and looking pretty.
Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella also show up here in an attempt to add some gravitas to the acting but like Krueger, they are far too under-utilized to provide anything worthy. The two share a wonderful scene together but aside from that, they’re stuck in a film that is just far too tepid to do anything worthy.
Ultimately, the film is a mixed bag. Jaume Collet-Serra shows promise with his slick filming and commendable attempts at action. He creates a number of scenes that are tension filled and well done but he’s stuck with an absolutely awful script. It’s so outrageous and maddening that it overshadows the positives in the film. Things start off alright and I was into it for a while, but once the plot twists were piled on, it all went to shit. Neeson’s Martin Harris may be left wondering why someone would steal his identity but as the audience, we’re left wondering why someone would steal our ten dollars.
Don’t be fooled by the ads, this film is not worth your money.
As the film progresses, it becomes incomprehensible. The twists are too preposterous and the plot holes are too plentiful, making Unknown an absolute mess.