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Thursday, April 7, 2011


Generic title, generic Liam Neeson thriller... only wait, this one's good!

From Channel24 (Originally posted 6 April 2011)

What it's about:
Martin Harris (played by Liam Neeson) an American doctor attending a conference in Berlin with his wife, finds himself involved in a massive car accident shortly after arriving in the country,  leaving him in a coma for four days. Upon awakening, he discovers that someone else has taken his identity and no one – not even his wife – remembers who he is.

What we thought:

A couple of years ago, Liam Neeson starred in the action-thriller Taken, a film that was embraced by pretty much everyone for its no-nonsense, ass-kicking action scenes and breathless pacing. Everyone, that is, except me. I thought the film was weighed down by the boring, Hallmark-channel-like family drama stuff at the beginning and by the fact that, for all the dozens, if not hundred, of baddies that Neeson's character had to dispatch with over the course of the movie, I never really felt any sense of genuine threat to the character's safety. That it was entirely without any sense of humour about its absurdity certainly didn't help either.

I bring this up because Neeson finally found, in the form of Unknown, a one-man-against-the-world action thriller that actually lives up to whatever everyone else saw in Taken. A fine addition to the memory loss thriller sub-genre of which Total Recall and the Bourne movies are probably the most notable examples, Unknown offers exactly what you want from this sort of film.

The story is obviously quite silly and I have no doubt that it contains an ocean full of Titanic-sized plotholes but it's so fabulously twisty that it's hard not go along with it. The twists may not be entirely surprising or original but they come at you so fast and so relentlessly that the film will always be at least a couple of steps ahead of you. While Taken had me struggling with consciousness, Unknown never lost my attention for a second.    

Just as importantly, there is definitely a sense that Unknown understands its own ludicrousness. It may play itself straight-faced but there is a definite undercurrent of playfulness. Never is that more obvious than in the slyly comic undertones of Bruno Ganz's Ernst Jurgen, a former Stasi (the secret police of Soviet East Berlin) agent that helps Neeson's character in his attempts to reclaim his identity and find out the truth about the apparent conspiracy that is going on around him.

The rest of the cast are a lot more po-faced but they generally come off well. Frank Langella has a small part towards the end but he is as terrific as ever, especially playing off against Ganz's character. January Jones is probably the film's weak link as she struggles to escape the shadow of her Mad Men character but then she isn't given that much to do so it's hard to lay too much of the blame at her feet. Diane Kruger fares far better as the nominal lead actress of the film, even if it was a weird choice to cast a German-born actress in a German-set film as an illegal Bosnian immigrant.

Speaking of shifting nationalities, Liam Neeson again adopts an American accent this role but it's hard to gripe too much when you consider what a bang up job he does here. He's a pretty great actor in general but Neeson proves once again just how good he is as an action hero as well. While the direction may be responsible for the impressive tension that is built up throughout the film and while the action scenes are clearly very efficiently choreographed and shot, there's no doubt that Neeson's gritty and forceful screen presence plays a huge part in the success of the film.

It's no masterpiece but if you're looking for a muscular and terrifically entertaining thriller with a plot that keeps you guessing at every turn, Unknown is the perfect choice for your next cinema outing.


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