Unknown: Take my life, please

Unknown – 2011

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring Liam Neeson, January Jones, Diane Kruger, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Bruno Ganz and the “Can You Hear Me Now?” guy

Written by Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell based on Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert

If you’d ever seen him run, you’d think Liam Neeson is an old and feeble man.  Yet, for some reason, since his wife Natasha Richardson passed in 2009, he can’t miss at the box office.  Thing is, all the hits have been action films, and I would not believe Neeson an action star any more than I would my wife’s grandmother.  As a man with questions about his identity in Unknown, he has found a nice spot for a 59 year-old.  It’s action, but at least he isn’t expected to kick anyone’s butt.  If he loses a fight or two, or gets lucky now and again, well, so could Grandma Evelyn.  Both are as likely to survive this film as they are to win the grand jackpot in her bingo tournaments.

This guy trades a cell phone for a syringe.
This guy makes the movie worth the price of admission.

The story starts out with an idyllic couple touching down in Germany.  He is coming to town for a biotechnology summit, and shed is his faithful wife.  A missed briefcase  and a couple of Taxi rides either, he ends up in the River Spree.  Waking up 4 days later, he finds his wife (Jones, in a somewhat wooden performance), who fail’s to recognize him.  After insisting that he is the real Dr. Martin Harris , he is presented with another man (Quinn) who has credentials stating the same.  And his wife chooses the other guy.

From here, the man formerly known as Martin Harris then spends the rest of the movie working with the Taxi driver who saved his life (Kruger, in a good, understated role) and a mysterious private investigator Herr Jürgen (the excellent Bruno Ganz, who steals every scene he’s in) to reclaim his life.  He is chased by goons, one of which looks remarkably like the “Can you hear me now?” guy.

Where this all leads, I will not share.  Suffice to say I enjoyed it thoroughly.  The scenes are economically paced and do not linger gratuitously.  There are some incredible stretches here and there, but overall, this one holds its cards closer to the vest than your average movie, making more out of the plot than is really there.  The only place it really suffers is in the forced stupidity at the end of the film by the authorities serving only to push the plot forward.  Oh, that and Jones.  She was better in Mad Men, and even quite chilling as Emma Frost in the last X-Men movie.  Here, however, she really gives the feeling of one trying to recite lines from memory.  Countering this, however is Neeson’s typical solid delivery and Kruger’s very believable portrayal of  frail, but helpful cab driver.  Add to that an iconic line in the last fight, (“I remember how to kill you, asshole.”) and you have the makings off a solid thriller, even if the hero is limping as bad at the end of the movie as he was in the beginning.

(**** out of *****)

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7 thoughts on “Unknown: Take my life, please

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