Liam Neeson as Dr. Martin Harris
Diane Kruger as Gina
January Jones as Elizabeth Harris
Aidan Quinn as Martin B.
Bruno Ganz as Ernst Jürgen
Frank Langella as Rodney Cole
Sebastian Koch as Professor Bressler
Olivier Schneider as Smith
Stipe Erceg as Jones
Rainer Bock as Herr Strauss
Mido Hamada as Prince Shada
Clint Dyer as Biko
Karl Markovics as Dr. Farge
Eva Löbau as Nurse Gretchen
Helen Wiebensohn as Laurel Bressler
Merle Wiebensohn as Lily Bressler
Directed by Jaume Collet-Sera
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), a scientist in Berlin for a biotech seminar, ends up in a coma when his cab drives off the road into the river and when he wakes up four days later, not only does his wife (January Jones) not know who he is, but someone else has taken his name and place. Desperate for answers as he’s pursued by assassins, Harris tracks down his Bosnian cab driver (Diane Kruger) and a former East German state police officer (Bruno Ganz) to find out the truth about his identity and why people are trying to kill him.
With the success of the action-thriller “Taken,” 59-year-old Liam Neeson has fully progressed from Oscar bait mainstay to full-on action star capable of holding down the type of genre fare that’s normally headlined by actors twice his age. In that sense, “Unknown” offers a premise not unlike “Bourne Identity” in which the thespian vet plays a man trying to remember who he is while being chased by individuals trying to kill him.
Almost immediately after his Dr. Harris lands in Berlin with his wife, the filmmakers find a way to separate him from his wife by putting him in a cab and tossing that cab over the side of a bridge, Harris hitting his head and his comatose body being dragged out of the water by his cab driver. When he wakes up in a hospital four days later, he has no identification and is fuzzy about what happened, though he doesn’t have amnesia and vaguely remembers who he was and why he’s in Berlin. When he returns to the hotel, there’s another man with his wife claiming to be him. This is clearly upsetting, but before Harris can find out the truth, he’s pursued by killers and he seeks out the help of his cab driver (Diane Kruger) who in turn sends him to an ex-Stasi agent who may have some answers for him.
As much as “Unknown” tries to be an intelligent thriller for grown-ups, the premise is pretty silly and normally, when that’s the case, you know it’s going to lead to an equally silly twist. Dark Castle regular Jaume Collet-Sera’s previous movie “Orphan” had one of the funniest twist endings possibly ever, though this doesn’t quite achieve that extreme of insanity because the plot is so based in thriller cliches we’ve seen before, there aren’t as many surprises until that third act. We won’t give away the big twist, though we’ll say that the film’s biggest problem is that once it’s revealed, much of what happens in the film’s third act negates what happened earlier by turning much of it into nonsensical drivel.
Neeson is such a strong dramatic actor it’s disappointing when he has moments where his performance goes so overboard that he seems to be channeling Harrison Ford at his worst, and one has to wonder who thought it would be a good idea to have Diane Kruger in a movie entirely set in Berlin playing a non-German? Her Bosnian accent just isn’t very good and it completely detracts from what would have otherwise been a solid performance. Even Frank Langella seems to be phoning it in with a character who mostly appears in the third act and drives home how implausible most of the premise is as well as offering one of the film’s most careless moments. That essentially leaves the film’s only real saving grace in former “Downfall” despot Bruno Ganz as the Stasi agent who adds the only really warmth to the proceedings so he truly stands out.
Despite the problems, the Spanish filmmaker, like Neeson, is more than competent to handle everything that’s required, and the results are a fairly decent action flick with the type of car chases and exploits one might expect from a Joel Silver Joint. Even so, if you’ve seen enough of his movies, you can almost guess the way stunts are going to go before they happen.
The Bottom Line:
“Unknown” could have been a terrific action movie–and some might forgive its transgressions during the chase sequences–instead, it constantly gets tangled up in all the minutiae of its premise. Ultimately, competent acting and action barely make up for some of the most ludicrous plot logistics that probably wouldn’t pass muster with anyone whose education has progressed beyond middle school.