Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell
With the release of 2008’s “Taken,” Liam Neeson became a bona fide action star all the while being a man in his fifties. But this action movie trend has continued with last year’s “The A-Team” and now “Unknown”, which also features the beautiful January Jones from television’s “Mad Men.”
The two are featured here as a couple with Neeson playing Dr. Martin Harris, an American professor of science. Martin, along with his wife Liz, arrive in Berlin for a very important biotechnology summit, where one of Martin’s colleagues hopes to unveil his latest genius development that will change the world. But when Martin leaves his briefcase at the airport, things begin to unravel. First he is in a dramatic car accident that leaves him in a coma. Four days later, Martin awakes with only partial memory of who he was. When he returns to his wife, he finds that he has been replaced by another man who claims to be Martin Harris, and Liz claims to never have seen him before.
With the help of a friendly nurses’ advice, Harris employs the help Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), who specializes in finding things out. He also seeks out the cabbie, Gina (Diane Kruger), who saved his life when their taxi entered a river, to help prove to the authorities that he is the real Martin Harris. He must evade a mysterious force of assassins in order to survive and find out who he really is.
The plot is intriguing and delivers a fair bit of action and mystery, but when it comes down to it, the filmmakers were just lazy with such an interesting concept. What should have been a great thriller/mystery becomes a film that is repetitive. Actors are forced to recite clunky dialogue that sounds too scripted to believe. In addition, the characters come to conclusions and discoveries that are too good to be true, like when Gina spots Martin in a parking garage by the sound of his yell while driving a half mile away with the windows up; or when the two escape into a happening night club to find a side room completely unoccupied and quiet so that they can discuss their next move.
The shining light in the film is veteran German actor Bruno Ganz, probably best known to American audiences for his portrayal as Adolf Hitler in “Downfall,” and the numerous parodies made from a scene that features him in a fit of rage. Ganz plays the part of Jürgen quite believably and even features in probably the most intense scene in the film opposite fellow veteran Frank Langella, who crashes the party as a colleague of Harris’ who arrives in Berlin to help prove his identity. Rodney Cole, played by Langella, is a character that is underdeveloped. At one point we see Harris calling him on a public phone, struggling to describe his situation on a voicemail, and then Cole pops up much later only to be too suspicious to believe. Neeson and Kruger are fine in their roles but Jones is surprisingly stone-faced in hers.
“Unknown” is a film with a great premise and poor execution. The action is entertaining enough and the plot is enough to hold the attention of the viewer through the length of the film, waiting for the final reveal, but it really is something that could have been great with a more focused script and direction.