Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Bruno Ganz, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella
Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell, Didier Van Cauwelaert (Novel)
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) is in Berlin with his wife (January Jones) for a biotechnology conference.
When a baggage mix-up sends him back to the airport while his wife stays back at the hotel, Martin is involved in a serious accident only to be saved by the cab driver, an illegal Bosnian immigrant (Diane Kruger). In a coma for four days, Martin awakens and leaves the hospital against medical advice only to return to a hotel where his wife seemingly doesn't recognize him and, even stranger, another man (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place and his identity.
Returning to the action/thriller genre after his success with Taken, Liam Neeson isn't quite as successful this time out courtesy of an action/thriller that is short on inventive, exciting action and surprisingly devoid of thrilling moments. Slightly past the halfway point, Unknown is a decidedly functional if fairly pointless film with Neeson doing a less exciting retread of his Taken performance made modestly better thanks to D.P. Flavio Labiano's icy camera work that gives the film's Berlin locale an edgy, taut atmosphere.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, House of Wax), Unknown works as a semi-functional action flick until slightly past the film's halfway point, at which time the film disintegrates into silliness and everything begins to unfold towards a climax that is remarkably anti-climactic. To call the ending "disappointing" would be a massive understatement.
Unknown strikes me as the type of film a grieving spouse would take, and it's not particularly surprising that it's about now that Neeson is starting to talk about his grief over the death of his wife Natasha Richardson. Unknown is cold, detached and remarkably unfeeling ... it's as if the film itself is caught in the throes of complicated grief and simply can't let go. Neeson isn't necessarily bad here, but the success of Taken was far more about the film itself than anything having to do with Neeson's performance. Neeson isn't an action/thriller actor, and there's nothing here that suggests he's grown in the genre since Taken.
Diane Kruger is woefully under-utilized, especially in the film's opening scenes but she never really is allowed to blossom here and could have added so much to the film. The same could fairly well be said for both January Jones, a remarkable and remarkably under-used actress, and Aidan Quinn, who at least seems energized by actually appearing in a film that someone's going to see.
In fact, the film's arguably best performance would likely go to Bruno Ganz (Downfall), as Jurgen, an ex-Stasi officer freelancing in a now free Germany. On the flip side, Frank Langella reminds us why he went a few years relatively unnoticed with an underwhelming performance not at all reflective of the wonderful performances he's been turning in recently.
A stunningly weak ending very nearly causes the entire film to collapse, however, the film's first half may contain enough action and thrills to please hardcore Neeson fans not wanting to check out this week's other action-oriented flick, D.J. Caruso's I Am Number Four.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic