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Unknown Review

Even the most preposterous thrillers (Hitchcock inspired or not) can succeed if those involved believe in the material and go for it with gusto. Though it is clear that Unknown is more constructed as a vehicle for Liam Neeson to continue his Taken-oriented action streak than to evoke the most cerebral of mistaken identity entries, he adds the gravitas needed to cement a lushly mounted Euro-thriller; something Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie failed to do miserably in last year’s The Tourist.

Style is something that Unknown possesses in spades and considering the director at the helm, we should expect no less. Spaniard Jaume
Collet-Serra has had mixed success with his previous efforts which include the dopey House of Wax and the dark and twisted Orphan when it comes to overall execution, but both of these horror entries are deeply drenched with atmosphere and lush production values. Amidst the grand shots of Berlin
 and the frequent car chases is of course the plot itself and though it has it moments of outright stupidity and dopey one-liners, the conspiracy-centric storyline never cheats the audience and instead brings us along as Neeson’s Dr. Martin Harris’ attempts to uncover his true identity amidst a mounting conspiracy. Awakening from a comma following a watery car crash, Harris finds a wife who will not
acknowledge him and a man in his place with the same name, all the necessary credentials and nothing useful to use to prove his true identity.

unknownpicThe cast is universally strong here, especially the great Bruno Ganz as a former German intelligence operative who has since retired to the post of private detective. Ganz is funny and charming in his side role and bolsters Neeson in the lead. He is one of Harris’ few allies as he is replaced by an imposter while attending a biomedical conference in Berlin. Also at his disposal is a feisty cab driver (Dianne Kruger in a nice tough little role) who finds herself caught up in the growing fracas following the accident and is compelled to accompany Harris for reasons ranging from the promise of money which will help her escape her past and simply the fact people seem to want her dead.

The requisite final twist is certainly one you will not see coming, but thankfully is also not one that will send you hurtling towards the exit. The revelation is intelligent and plausible in the context of the film and actually creates an interesting dynamic amongst some of the supporting players. Disappointingly, a low point was the third act appearance of Frank Langella as a colleague of Harris’ who serves only as a tool for plot exposition (as revelatory as it may be) and a menacing, shadowy presence that more than echoes his role in The Box. Go back to prestige work, Frank.

Sacrificing explosions for dialogue and mystery (well, for the most part at least) Unknown is better than your average early-year fare and is a nice antidote for those trying to catch up on their Oscar films. Neeson has already had his time to prove his acting chops, so I don’t mind one bit to see him starring in ­action fare for a stint. As long as he keeps me entertained as he did here, he can slay his way across all of Europe for
all I mind.

Rating: 7/10


Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: Oliver Butcher
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dianne Kruger, January Jones, Bruno Ganz


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