Unreal Movie Review: Unknown

Guns! Ass-kicking! Liam Neeson! It’s the magic formula that made us all swoon for Taken, the surprise 2008 hit where Neeson fought heaven and hell to get his kidnapped daughter back. It’s similar imagery you’ll see in the Unknown trailer, but the two films are quite a bit further apart than audiences realize.

While Taken was a straightforward smash and grab, Unknown is more of an elaborately planned heist, sneaking in and out before anyone realizes what happened. The plot effectively creates a mystery that audiences will enjoy unraveling themselves, and it starts out as a pretty tough brain teaser.

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) is a character name I actually remember without looking it up for a change, because he repeats it about two hundred times throughout the course of the movie. He’s in Berlin for a biotech conference, when he forgets his bag at the airport. His wife (January Jones) checks into the hotel, but on his way back, a random accident sends him plunging off a bridge. He awakes to find himself erased from existence, his wife pretends not to know him, and a new man is claiming to be Dr. Martin Harris. With no documentation, a fuzzy memory and Google telling lies, Harris must figure out what the hell is going on.

“But I’M me! Yelling will only reinforce my point I’m sure!”

At first the mystery is almost too absurd to even comprehend. What possible reason would someone have to impersonate this man, and change his entire history to boot? As he’s at a biotech conference, I suspected that perhaps he was some lab experiment accidentally infused with someone else’s memories via some new technology. It’s not even close to the right answer, but what is revealed is equally far-fetched.

As more details come to light, you can start making more informed guesses about what’s going on. It’s hard to go into details here, but it’s safe to say that Unknown ends up having less in common with Taken and a lot more with a certain action thriller also involving memory loss which will remain unnamed.

Like that film, it’s fun to unravel the mystery, but unlike that titular character, Dr. Martin Harris doesn’t know how to disarm three men in under five seconds or lose a CIA tail at a bus station. He’s just a regular guy, which creates some added tension, but far fewer cool action sequences.

“You mean I can’t pass for Liam Neeson?”

Neeson is fine here, but he’s far from the applause worthy badass he was in Taken. He’s just a very confused, scared man with a life-altering head injury, and eventually his pleas of “you’ve got to believe me!” start to wear thin, as that line always does in movies with unbelievable set-ups.

The big reveal does effectively give an explanation for the mysterious events at hand, but the likelihood of that kind of accident, happening to that person, at that moment and having him sustain that very particular type of injury is one in a goddamn googleplex. Yes, I know it’s often coincidence that sets up both insane real life events, and more often the complex plots we see in movies, but here it’s almost too ridiculous to accept.

That being said, the film crafted around the absurd premise is actually enjoyable to watch. Neeson and his supporting cast of January Jones, Diane Kruger, Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella are all impeccable. But with less action and fewer smarts than classics in the genre, Unknown will be erased from my memory soon enough.

3 out of 5 stars

Introducing the January Jones-a-tron 2000.

2 Comments

  1. Hyuri February 22, 2011
  2. Orleanas February 26, 2011

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