Liam Neeson returns to Europe-based thrillers this week as an ordinary man who finds himself with no memory and the target of assassins in the middle of Berlin. Does the average Joe in a world of intrigue yield dividends or does Unknown just turn out to be an ordinary thriller? Check out the review below to find out…
- Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
- Writer: Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell
- Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn and Frank Langella
In Berlin for a biochemical conference, Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) gets in a horrific taxicab accident that sends him into a coma. He awakens to find that his wife (Jones) suddenly doesn’t recognize him and claims that another man (Quinn) is actually Dr. Martin Harris. Harris tries to convince authorities that the man is impostor, but his lack of identification and credentials make him seem crazy. He’s cast out into the streets of Berlin only to find himself the target of some mysterious assassins.
He eventually finds the taxi driver (Kruger), the only person who believes his story. United with her, Harris tries to figure out why he’s suddenly become unknown and who is trying to kill him.
- The Action Pieces: In between a plot that meanders while failing to move at all, are some pretty nifty action pieces including an excellent car chase through the streets of Berlin that relies much more heavily on stunt work than it does on CG. Those moments make this film feel like a throwback to those thrillers we all miss – where action feels real and the stakes high. Unfortunately, they come in the middle of an otherwise scatterbrained story.
- The Ending: When the film reveals what’s happened to Harris (don’t worry, no spoilers) it comes as a complete surprise and also justifies all the time wasted leading up the reveal. It’s one of those rare “gotcha” moments that doesn’t seem forced and actually helps inform the rest of the film. Ordinarily poor films are born out of a poor ending, but this is one film that winds up unsatisfying despite an excellent climax. What a shame.
- The Lack of Characterization: A major issue with this film is that we never really have a sense of who any of these characters are. While that certainly makes sense for our amnesiac lead, it doesn’t mean that every character should be treated. They may as well be talking mannequins as we learn nothing about any of them while they serve no purpose other than to move the plot forward and be conveniently placed. Had there been some care taken to more fully flesh out these characters, perhaps the film would have been a more interesting thrill ride that did more than just shoot at a man running through Berlin.
- The Trick of the Story: Because thrillers can’t just rely on compelling characters or slick direction anymore, this one has to have a high-concept premise. In this case, it’s the aforementioned amnesia angle that finds Harris unaware if he’s really who he thinks he is while the audience is convinced that he is. The film twists around with that for about 90 minutes without making any progress toward a resolution. It establishes very quickly Harris’ issue then produces no more turns until its ultimate reveal. This method of storytelling provides nothing more than a confusing narrative that becomes so nonsensical that merely paying attention seems worthless after awhile.
- Detached: This sense of confusion is eventually paid off, but by the time we get to the reveal we’re so detached from the story that it hardly serves as a revelation, more like a sense of relief that the movie can’t go on much longer. The film is so chained to its premise of a man’s presumably being ignored by everyone who knows him, that it never stops to ask itself whether or not any of this making any sense. Particularly in one scene where Harris recalls in detail everything about a personal correspondence between him and another scientist, yet the scientist cannot even begin to believe it’s him because he doesn’t have identification. Wouldn’t anybody think something is amiss?
- Logic: Rather than provide a well-plotted or logical way for its main character to confront his predicament, the film lazily asks the audience to simply accept what is happening so it can blow up a few cars without ever having to justify anything happening onscreen. All this does is betray a clever ending that deserved to be reached in a more elegant matter.
Unknown is nothing more than a non-sensical and rudimentary thriller. It brings absolutely nothing new to the table even with its unique premise. The characters are flat and uninteresting and it spends so much time running in place with head-shaking ways of showing, once again, that Dr. Harris is being ignored by everybody he knows. Outside of that plot characteristic, everything else about this movie we’ve seen before. It offers no new tricks and because it instantly makes its main character’s plight so unbelievably, it just ends up as a goofy version of better thrillers we’ve seen before.
Unknown opens in wide release on February 18th.