**** (out of 5)
February 18, 2011
Liam Neeson as DR. MARTIN HARRIS
Diane Kruger as GINA
January Jones as ELIZABETH HARRIS
Aidan Quinn as MARTIN B.
Bruno Ganz as ERNST JURGEN
Frank Langella as RODNEY COLE
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
One of the more pleasant surprises from Hollywood two years ago around this time was the international action thriller “Taken,” which showed not only that Liam Neeson had what it takes to be an action movie star, but it also showed him to be a total badass. Neeson continues his badassery in single-word-titled international thrillers with “Unknown.”
The story follows Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) on a trip to a seminar in Berlin. When he gets separated from his wife and suffers a head injury in a car crash, Harris is sent to a hospital as a John Doe. After waking up, he has partial memory loss and starts to search for his wife. However, when he tracks her down, he discovers someone is impersonating him.
As many people are pointing out, “Unknown” is loaded with plot points, story arc and twists that we’ve seen in many different movies over the years – from Harrison Ford’s similar-themed 80s thriller “Frantic” to other flicks (including another one with Ford) that cannot be mentioned for fear of spoiling major story elements. These accusations from other critics are totally correct, but “Unknown” doesn’t steal them as much as use similar themes in the genre.
Like “Inception,” there’s not a ton of originality in the story and plot, but both films are put together rather well, and “Unknown” is probably assembled better than it has any business being. You will likely guess a lot of the plot twists, but at least things aren’t telegraphed from frame one.
I suppose this is a film that both stands and falls on comparisons to other movies. For me, it stands on the back of its predecessors as a good movie should. Like “Taken,” “Unknown” is a spotlight for Liam Neeson, who has spent years trying to burst out of the glass ceiling of the American B-list. And like he does in “Taken,” Neeson shows he can headline a film and provide plenty of the aforementioned badassery.
But beyond that badassery, Neeson manages to bring a level of empathy and identifiability to the character of Martin Harris. The man is a great actor with a distinguished resume. While he’s been seen mostly as a supporting player in American, or as a headliner in sci-fi schlock like “Darkman” and “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” his ability to play the distraught husband really sells the film.
What makes “Unknown” work isn’t that the filmmakers think they’re smarter than the audience. Rather, it’s told at such a pace that you don’t care to figure it all out. Instead, it’s fun to watch things unfold. Kudos to director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose resume prior to “Unknown” was rather embarrassing with the wretched remake of “House of Wax” and the convoluted and painful “Orphan.”
Now, this is not to say that “Unknown” is not without its problems. For as great as Liam Neeson is in this film, January Jones (who is more than 25 years younger than Neeson) shows her true colors as a remarkably terrible actress. I’m talking Megan Fox bad. You remember how films like “Jennifer’s Body,” “Jonah Hex” and “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” came crashing down every time Fox opened her mouth? Well, the same thing happens with January Jones in this film.
The worst part about Jones’ performance is that – unlike much of the Megan Fox filmography – “Unknown” fancies itself a smart film. And it is… until Jones opens her pretty little mouth.
I just hope that no one has the brilliant idea to pair Jones and Fox in a movie together. Were that to happen, the resulting black hole of acting would be powerful enough to swallow the planet.
But if you can grit your teeth and bear through her mercifully scant dialogue, you should not have any fear of the “Unknown.”