Since most of us couldn't stop talking about the unforgettable action-suspense thriller Taken (2008) for a week after seeing it in the Cinemas, it's no surprise that we've gotten all excited about Liam Neeson's newest suspense flick, Unknown, hoping it would be an equally edge-of-the-seat thriller, the kind of escapist adrenalin-booster romp that we crave as a break from the everyday humdrum.
This time, in Unknown, Liam takes us to the cold, grey ominous streets of Berlin as Martin Harris, an American botanist that is scheduled to attend a Biotechnology summit in the city, where the greatest scientific minds of the world will merge— the hot topic being the genetically-altered crop that could end world hunger. Harris brings along his wife Liz, Mad Men's January Jones, who looks particularly too young for the aging Neeson. Upon arrival in the snowy, blistery streets of Berlin, the red flag of suspense promptly raises as Harris accidentally leaves behind a suitcase before embarking on a taxi to the hotel. Then a string of events quickly picks up; Liz has some trouble checking in the hotel, Martin, upon realizing that he left his suitcase back at the airport, frantically hails a taxi with a woman driver (Diane Kruger), and they get into a harrowing accident. When Martin wakes up from a coma sans ID, January Jones is looking at him quizzically—and in her arm, is a less handsome Martin Harris (Adian Quinn) that she claims to be her husband. Suddenly, no one knows who he is. The only one who can possibly help him pick up the pieces of the mystery is the Bosnian illegal immigrant taxi driver.
Directed by Jaume (House of Wax), the movie lacks that smart, polished, elegant feel despite the exciting mystery, and even the strong visual presence of Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella did not elevate the movie into a classy, quality film that you expect. The action scenes were a bit sub-par to the point of okay-let-us-get-done-and-over-with-the-car-chase sort of impatience, and there were character flaws and inconsistencies, also lacking in depth and richness. Diane Kruger, Neeson's staunch ally, weirdly seems to be the hero in the film and should have taken up the movie poster instead of Neeson. In fact, the only one actor who showed exemplary performance, albeit her strange superhero role, was Kruger, with Neeson's character and performance only secondary. And January Jones was the annoying part in the film, a frosty blond that couldn't act. What's wrong with her?
Despite the unpolished feel of the movie, the nightmarish sense of losing your identity is still palpable and unsettling in Unknown, and will keep you guessing towards the unpredictable end. Was Harris' identity really stolen? Or has the accident altered his mind-- yet a conspiracy still exists? Mystery and conspiracy buffs will find the film titillating as the puzzle was laid out very well in the story, and the foreign eerie streets of Berlin actually enhanced the espionage, atmosphere of the film. Also, there were a few heart-stopping, stressful kind of suspense as Harris was being hunted by the mysterious bad guys. It's the slightly flawed characterization, as well as the action scenes that came short, that reduce Unknown into almost TV movie-like instead of a blockbuster cinematic experience, but it will nevertheless hook you until the end.
Do not expect a mind-blowing high-quality action thriller with a smart and savvy screenplay, but Unknown is still fairly a good mystery movie; enjoyable in a conventional level that, if you're looking for a suspense and mystery fix, backdropped with the refreshingly beautiful German city, it will fairly do its job. Choosing Unknown as a Friday night movie date is a safe, worth-it experience, but not something that you will giddily talk about afterwards. It is entertaining, but not wildly entertaining.
3 out 5 stars