Liam Neeson apparently was so taken with the action in Taken that he wanted more, and Unknown provided him with the chance to show that even at 58 he's fully capable of pulling off the lead in an action-heavy thriller. Unknown's trailer does it the disservice of making it appear like it's Taken 2, but while Unknown is far from Neeson's best film, it's a vast improvement on the inexplicably popular Taken.
It's obvious screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell (adapting from Didier Van Cauwelaert's book) and director Jaume Collet-Serra were going for a Hitchcockian vibe with Unknown and they succeeded - in brief spurts - at evoking a tone akin to that iconic filmmaker's work. When Unknown's at its best, it's a compelling look at one man's desperate search for the truth. At its worst, it's a derivative mash-up of more sophisticated, less implausible thrillers. Fortunately, the film's rough edges are made up for by some spectacular action sequences and Neeson's performance.
** Only the basics of Unknown will be discussed so as not to give away key elements of the plot twist**
Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones), arrive in Berlin for a biotech conference at which Dr. Harris is a featured speaker. Upon pulling up to their luxurious hotel in a cab, Martin discovers his briefcase has been left behind at the airport. In a panic, he hails another cab and heads back to retrieve his briefcase, which contains his research and money for the trip along with his wallet and passport.
Martin's second taxi ride of the business trip ends in a horrible accident that sends the cab flying off a bridge and into an icy river. Gina the cab driver (Diane Kruger) manages to free him from the sinking cab and hauls him to the shore. Once there, emergency workers take over and Gina takes off. Martin comes to four days later in a Berlin hospital with a foggy memory and no ID. He knows his name, and is immediately alarmed by the fact his wife isn't there at his bedside.
Disobeying his doctor's orders, Martin hurries back to the hotel to find his wife. The hotel staff is leery of letting him into the biotech conference, however he insists his wife will be able to verify his identity. It's a total shock then when Liz not only fails to recognize him but he discovers another man is claiming to be Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn). Liz backs up the second Dr. Harris' story which leaves the still-confused Martin Harris either convinced Liz is being held hostage and forced to respond in such a bizarre manner or that he's suffering from some form of amnesia.
Martin pursues answers to the baffling question of why people are insisting he's not who he says he is, enlisting the help of an ex-Stasi officer-turned-private-investigator (Bruno Ganz) and an extremely hesitant Gina who's got issues of her own to deal with and doesn't want any unnecessary attention.
The Bottom Line
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) effectively ratchets up the tension throughout the film, slowly feeding clues to the audience. And I've got to say, I didn't guess the ending which is refreshing and unusual. There are twists and turns, double crosses and red herrings sprinkled throughout - enough to keep you guessing till the bitter end. Unfortunately, the actual answer to the question of who is Dr. Martin Harris wasn't as satisfying as the action leading up to the big reveal.
Unknown takes some ludicrous turns on its way to the final act, but because Neeson's so totally convincing as this amnesiac desperately searching for the truth, you can overlook a lot of the illogical leaps taken along the way. Add in director Jaume Collet-Serra's staging of the action scenes (including one of the most impressive car chases of the past few years), some particularly brutal fight sequences, and the atmosphere provided by actually filming in and around Berlin, and Unknown's a fairly intriguing and well-paced thriller.
Unknown was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content.
Theatrical Release: February 18, 2011