Movie Review - Unknown (2011)
Liam Neeson starred in the blockbuster film Taken (2008), which featured the 56-year-old, Irish actor in pursuit of a woman and fighting in fisticuffs and roped into crazy car chases. This movie is basically the same but with a few re-configurations. So, if you enjoyed Taken, you'll enjoy this.
Based on the novel by French author Didier van Cauwelaert, I could waste time by explaining the plot, but, I'll immediately jump right into spoilers and say yes this is Roman Polanski's Frantic meets a middle-aged version of The Bourne Identity. Neeson plays Martin Harris, a man who arrives in Berlin with his wife to meet up with a professor and attend a biotechnology summit. Things go awry when he gets into a car crash and loses his memory.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra soon establishes an air of mystery, paranoia, desperation and thrill. Along with that, he and Neeson also establish an air of loneliness. The many shots of Neeson by himself, wandering the streets of Berlin, are quite strong to get you to feel what it's like for him to be cut off from all he knows.
After Neeson's character loses his memory, he becomes confused as to whom he is and believes himself to be someone he's not. When he tries to reclaim his identity, he gets shut out. With no passport and nowhere to go in a foreign city, Neeson's character is lost and this is all well-played.
There are a few misdirections that keep you guessing as to what his true identity is, but it leads to one of two great moments in this movie. It's bad enough to think you've lost your identity, but to think that it's not been misplaced but actually stolen from you is worse. Neeson's character confronts the man who has in fact stolen his identity. Their encounter in a laboratory is brilliant because even though it involves them being at odds, they don't attack each other or even make point and counter-point. They instead speak the same lines in an obvious tug-of-war that doesn't require them pulling on each other.
As odd as it will sound, the best acted scene between two people doesn't involve any of the main characters. Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) plays Cole, a man who claims to be a friend of Martin Harris, and, Bruno Ganz (Downfall) plays Jurgen, a former secret agent who ends up interfering with Cole's plans. The two come face to face in a scene that is so tense that you know something horrible is going to happen. You just don't know what or how. Yet, the two veteran actors handle it so amazingly.
This film is filled with great moments, big tense ones like that and even smaller ones. It's sad that the overall plot and ending weren't more original. There's enough energy, however, to keep this movie very entertaining.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some intense violence and brief sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.