By Gary Murray
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Frank Langella, Aidan Quinn and Bruno Ganz
Written by Oliver Butcher and Steven Cornwell
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Running time 113 min
MPAA rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
As a genre, the thriller has been a part of the cinema landscape for years and years. Tales of murder and intrigue that twist and turn along have been a part movies since the silent days. Hitchcock's first silent films were all thrillers, something he mastered in the sound era. The latest director to take this on is Jaume Collet-Serra with the thrill a minute piece Unknown.
Liam Neeson is Dr Martin Harris, a botanist going to a major convention in Berlin Germany with his lovely wife Liz (January Jones). As they check-in to the hotel, he notices that his briefcase is not in the baggage. Catching a cab with a Slavic driver Gina (Diane Kruger) they get into a freak accident. Martin wakes up in the hospital four days later. He's been in a coma the entire time. His memories are fuzzy and the doctor warns him that it will take awhile to straighten his mind out. He catches visions of his wife sitting on his lap in a restaurant and of a dark haired woman drying her hair. The past seems a bit of a jumble.
Going back to the hotel, he sees Liz but she claims she doesn't recognize him. When he starts to rant, another man (Aidan Quinn) steps to Liz's side and claims that he is Dr. Martin Harris. The man has all the papers to prove that he actually is the good doctor.
Martin goes on a journey to find out what is going on. He tries to get the authorities to help but they just believe he is another crazed person. He gets on a computer and cannot find himself in any search of the Internet. His mission to discover the truth leads back to Gina and a former East German spy Jurgen (Bruno Ganz). The spy knows of shadowy figures and knows the difference between telling a lie and the truth. He feels that this Martin is somehow telling the truth and decides to help him out
Martin and Gina find that they are being watched by someone, someone who is trying to kill them. Jurgen begins to piece together all the puzzle parts, finding long forgotten methods once used by his agency. Martin has a book that his father has given him that has a code written on the last page. He becomes obsessed with connecting with his wife and finding out why she denies his memory. Unknown twists and turns to a giant conference and an attempted killing. Martin must deal not only with his internal reality and memory but of the outside forces meaning to do him harm.
The massive lapses of logic never drag the film down but they do become noticeable The police never seem to mind the high body count nor the massive and dangerous deeds done on their fair streets. Chases and crashes happen with no one caring on the side of justice. The amount of coincidence that happens in Unknown borders on chaotic Director Jaume Collet-Serra knows how to frame his action sequences with some of the most exciting stunt work of the year. The driving scenes fly along as if they are out of the Fast and Furious handbook for action. It is just that as the film goes along it makes less and less sense. What may have worked in the original source novel doesn't translate on the silver screen. Writers Oliver Butcher and Steven Cornwell do a solid job with some of the dialog but miss out on the basic narrative.
It feels as if Liam Neeson has played this part before and in many ways he has. The timbre of the performance is almost the same as a few of his recent outings with little effort to be something different. He still knows the rough and tumble needs of the action character, he just looks a bit bored by doing it.
Much better were the females in the cast. Jennifer Jones seems to be channeling Nicole Kidman in the cold-lost woman. Her lack of emotion in the role just works for the character, the audience believing every beat of the part. January Jones truly plays a part with her Gina, a fleshed-out individual full of tragedy and pain. She and Liam work well together as a mismatched couple trying to find the key to saving their lives.
In the final analysis, Unknown is a little less than the sum of its parts. It works better as a simple action picture than an terror inducing fast-paced drama. It is a decent bit of work but doesn't break any new ground.