MOVIE REVIEW: Unknown

This Liam Neeson starrer starts out promising but doesn’t quite attain the perfection it could have achieved, says SPOT.ph movie reviewer Paul Daza.

At its best, the paranoid action thriller Unknown makes clever use of amnesia to tell an intriguing story about a married American doctor whose identity is seemingly stolen while he's in Germany. At its worst, though, the film has quite a few loopholes and contrivances that prevent it from achieving perfection and making it must-see viewing.

 

January Jones and Liam Neeson

 

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Liz (January Jones) have just arrived in Berlin from the USA for a biotechnology conference. As they're about to check in at their hotel, he realizes that his suitcase and identification papers are missing. He leaves Liz at the hotel and jumps into a taxi cab driven by Gina (Diane Kruger) to head back to the airport. But a freak vehicular accident nearly kills him, and he awakens from a coma four days later in a hospital with some memory loss. Eager to see his wife again, Martin returns to their hotel, only to discover that she doesn’t recognize him and another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity. Though he's ignored by the authorities and hunted by assassins, Martin is determined to uncover the truth. He tracks down Gina, and together, they try to figure out who he is while trying to survive the repeated attempts on their lives.

 

"Unknown" trailer

 

It's while Neeson is trying to solve the mystery behind his bizarre, post-coma situation that Unknown is at its most exciting and intriguing. These qualities of the movie are best exemplified in the gripping scene where Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn, both claiming to be Martin Harris, have begun enumerating incidents from their bio-data to a befuddled  scientist, and at one point, blurt out the same info simultaneously.

 

Also keeping the pace lively are the scenes where innocent civilians are violently disposed of as Neeson comes closer to piecing together who he really is. Among the casualties are a kind nurse who meets her demise in the hospital where Neeson is recuperating, and an immigrant who's murdered in an apartment building where the sounds of couples making love can be heard through the walls.

 

The best scene in the film, however, doesn't involve Neeson. Rather, it's the quiet but superbly intense moment involving two senior citizens- Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz) and Rodney Cole (Frank Langella) - who are meeting in Ernst's apartment to discuss Martin Harris. In a film propped up by formulaic car chases, beautiful women, arresting  European locations and sudden deaths, it is this simple scene involving two mysterious, elderly gentlemen which emerges as the most memorable scene in the film.

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Sadly, though, Unknown runs out of steam soon after this great scene. When Liam Neeson's character finally discovers who Martin Harris really is, the revelation, though surprising and inevitable the way all good plot twists should be- actually triggers more questions than it provides answers. Though it's ingenious in some respects, the big reveal also calls attention to the sheer ineptitude of the bad guys, who, despite being really intelligent and properly funded, were unable to destroy Neeson the moment he ceased being useful to them.

 

Making the last few minutes of the movie even worse is an unbelievably contrived scene where Neeson is at the mercy of the antagonists, and he is saved by what I can only describe as another character's sudden acquisition of Superman's telescopic vision.

 

That's the problem of Unknown. It starts out promisingly enough with our hero facing a baffling predicament in the real world- there's even some discussion of illegal aliens in Germany and world hunger. But when the movie reveals who Martin Harris really is, it effectively shoots itself in the leg with preposterousness and implausibility. And so, even though the film begins promisingly enough, it can only limp towards the finish line.

 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Spots •••

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