Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Stars: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella.
A strong character actor, Liam Neeson had an opportunity to flex his muscles as an action hero in the Euro thriller Taken, in which he played a former spy seeking vengeance on the slave traders who kidnapped his daughter. In Unknown he again flexes his muscles as the toughest, most resourceful and physically active amnesiac since Jason Bourne.
Neeson plays Martin Harris, a scientist who arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones) to present a lecture at a biotechnical conference. Upon arriving at their hotel Martin realises that he has left his briefcase at the airport. Jumping into a taxi he heads off to retrieve it. But the taxi has an accident and ends up crashing into the river. The driver drags him to safety before disappearing. Martin nearly dies, but is revived by paramedics. He spends four days in a coma, and when he awakens his memory is a bit hazy.
He returns to the hotel, only to find that Liz refuses to acknowledge him. And beside her is another man (played by Aidan Quinn), who claims to be Martin Harris. Who is the real Martin Harris? Is he indeed paranoid? And why is he being hunted by a couple of assassins. Martin seeks the answers with help of Gina (Diane Kruger), the taxi driver who saved him, who is also reluctant to get involved because she is an illegal immigrant. Martin also turns to Jurgen (Bruno Ganz, from Downfall, etc), a former Stasi agent who works as a private investigator. But Martin’s dogged pursuit of the truth leads to some unexpected answers about his own past.
The script from writers Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, which is based on a novel from Didier Van Cauwelaert, requires a willing suspension of disbelief as it twists and turns its way towards its formulaic conclusion. But young Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, the remake of House Of Wax that was filmed in Australia, etc) handles the material with brisk and ruthless efficiency that temporarily glosses over some of the gaping plot holes. And he also makes many of the cliches of the genre seem fresh. There is an exciting car chase that will nail audiences to their seats, and the jerky hand held camera work adds a certain urgency to these scenes. And Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Labiano, who worked with the director on Goal II, make excellent use of the wintry Berlin locations to add atmosphere to the film.
The performances of the cast are solid, with the charismatic Neeson again convincing as an action hero. Neeson has a strong and commanding screen presence, which has not always been used to best advantage, but here he brings some much needed credibility to the material. Neeson and Kruger also develop a great rapport as they elude a variety of killers. Ganz is terrific as the former spy haunted by the past, and Sebastian Koch (from The Lives Of Others, etc) is also good as a fellow scientist. Frank Langella lends his sinister presence to his brief role as the head of a covert government agency.
Unknown may be familiar stuff, but it is an effective, efficient, engaging and violent thriller.