Directed by Jaume Collett-Serra
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones) to attend a bio-technology conference. He gets into a car accident, bumps his head, and when he wakes up in a hospital with fractured memories, he cannot produce any identification. When he finds his wife, she's with another man (Aidan Quinn)—who claims that he, in fact, is Martin Harris, and he has the paperwork to prove it. Dr. Martin Harris—he keeps referring to his credentials that way, like Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut—must puzzle out if he's gone crazy, or is the victim of a vast, improbable conspiracy.
It's a juicy set-up out of Hitchcock, but Unknown doesn't seem to care much about resembling anything starring Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant (the much-maligned The Tourist is more genuinely retro, if that's what you're looking for); it's more interested in recalling a Bourne movie, or Taken. Unknown probably owes its existence, at least in this Neeson-led incarnation, to the latter's surprise box office success, and it has been positioned as a de facto sequel, the next entry in the Irritable American Neeson in Europe franchise (I wonder if some of his newfound fans even know he's Irish).
But Unknown is a better movie than its cousin—almost as silly but not nearly so thickheaded—and even works as a semi-progressive semi-corrective to Taken's hilarious xenophobia (where a U2 concert in France acted as a cesspool of potential danger) when Neeson gets help from Diane Kruger, playing a resourceful, hard-working illegal immigrant. Kruger's U.S. film career had largely been limited to girlfriend parts, but her excellent work in Inglourious Basterds seems to have jump-started her feistiness, or alerted more directors to it; here she's the scrappy counterpoint to a chilly, stiff January Jones. The movie also gives Neeson better support with Bruno Ganz as a former member of the East German secret police (answering the question, who does Liam Neeson go to when in need of the Neeson-style assistance he provides in movies like The Next Three Days?) and a late-arriving Frank Langella as Harris's American friend. These characters don't have much depth, but Ganz and Langella both show the sense to go quiet and playful opposite Neeson's angry outbursts of frustration and, occasionally, fists (though this is more of a running movie than a rampaging one).
Directed by Jaume Collett-Serra, who also made Orphan for Joel Silver's Dark Castle imprint, Unknown isn't especially suspenseful, just as Orphan wasn't especially scary; Collett-Serra's stylish flourishes have a touch of clumsy artificiality, more pulpy than dramatic but not confident enough to sweep the audience up with pure filmmaking bravado. Like Orphan, though, the movie does have the courage of its preposterousness, and navigates its twists with energy; it doesn't much matter that they only nominally adds up. Unknown is fast-paced, ridiculous but not too stupid, and almost completely disposable. It's been made with a kind of skill. A particular set of skills, if you will.
Opens February 18