Unknown Movie Review
"Unknown" is Liam Neeson's latest foray into the action-thriller genre, as the iconic actor takes the streets of Berlin as Dr. Martin Harris in order to figure out who he is, and why his wife doesn't remember him after a severe car accident which left him in a coma for four days.
If you think that the plot is as simple as that, well, think again.
Neeson may present himself as Dr. Martin Harris, a simple botanist on a European trip to attend a simple conference on simple botanical matters, but you soon learn that there is much more to Harris's trip with his wife, Liz (January Jones) than meets the eye.
Harris wakes up from a coma with a fragmented memory, unsure of how he got to a hospital but completely sure of who he is. Maybe too sure. He makes his way out of the hospital and to the hotel where he was supposed to be staying, only to find his identity assumed by someone else (Aidan Quinn). Harris must then retrace his steps throughout the city in order to find out how he got into this mess. Along the way, he encounters what seems to be an unsympathetic hitman out to kill him, a former member of the Eastern German secret police who is determined to figure this mess out (played by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz) and an unwitting cab driver and illegal Bosnian immigrant who ironically just wants to be left unknown (played by Diane Kruger).
Harris soon finds out that not everything is as it seems, and it may or may have something to do with the conference he was planning to attend, the new development in botany that a German colleague was planning to reveal, and the Arab prince that was going to be in attendance at the event.
While most people figured out the twists to the plot long before the movie came out, it really doesn't take anything away from the film to know what's going to happen (if you don't mind being *partially* spoiled, I suggest reading Phil T's blog which sort of guessed where the film could have gone). Based on the 2003 French novel "Out of My Head" by Didier van Cauwelaert, Unknown is much more about setting, execution and delivery than it is about plot twists. In fact, the twists are more a means to an end than anything else. It's about Harris's journey, his self discovery, and not really about who he claims to be.
All of this is reinforced by good directing from Jaume Collet-Serra, a great setting in Berlin and a few excellent car chases. Not to mention, of course, great acting from the incomparable Liam Neeson, the vastly underrated Diane Kruger as well as Frank Langella in a nice little cameo.
The critics reaction to this film is actually a little puzzling. It's one thing not to like the twist, but they seem to twist that into Unknown somehow being a bad film. They say the premise to the film is very original, but that it is also derivative, and manage to compare it to Taken for reasons that still escape me. Unknown is nothing like Taken once you forget that both are set in Europe and star Liam Neeson. He doesn't go on an Arnold Schwarzenegger like kill-streak, it's not a revenge story nor does it fall into the most of the tendencies of the spy-action film. Unknown is much more cerebral, it's much more about process and, as mentioned, self-discovery than it is about killing in order to find one's daughter. And don't get me wrong, I'm not slagging on Taken, it's one of my favorite movies of the last few years, but the comparisons between the two films are un-based.
Unknown is a good suspense thriller that makes you believe that Liam Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, a botanist on his first trip to Berlin in order to deliver a speech, and does a good job of getting to its own conclusion without being something we've all seen before. Whatever pre-conceptions, whether true or not, people may have had about the film heading into it are pretty irrelevant to its purpose.
If we had to single out one or two faults in the film, it would be a complete throw-away of a performance from a doe-eyed January Jones, who doesn't seem to fit the role handed to her at all and has trouble even being in the same room with some of the vastly superior actors in the film. Moreover, despite how much time I've spent defending the twists in the film, what Liam Neeson's character does with his revelations do end up being kind of cliché or even cheesy.
But solid performances from the entire cast and a great process in this original film really set Unknown apart from some of the other crap we've been seeing from Hollywood lately, and it deserves better than to be piled up with a bunch of other trivial and repetitive action films that will be long forgotten sooner rather than later.
With that said, Unknown received a strong 7.5 out of 10 from Better With Popcorn, and a strong recommendation as one of the year's better films so far.