Brilliant acting by Neeson can’t save forced ‘Unknown’

by David Dixon

Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a man who is fighting for his own identity and old life after he finds himself in the hospital, Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Many films tend to succeed if there is an original and unique conclusion. It is always a pleasure to follow sympathetic characters on a journey that leads to unpredictable destinations.

“Unknown,” based on the novel “Out of My Head,” gets the journey part right. The protagonist of the thriller is a fully developed person and there are several unexpected plot twists. However, the ending is another story.

The reliably charismatic Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) is traveling with his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) to a biotechnology conference in Berlin. While checking into their hotel, Martin realizes he accidentally left an important briefcase at the airport.

However, when Martin hails a taxi from a young female driver, the woman unintentionally gets them into a car accident. After waking up a few days later in a hospital, Harris returns to his hotel and finds his wife with a man who claims to be Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn). The real Martin tries to find why no one knows who he is and if there is any way he can get his old life back.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Labiano create a tension-filled atmosphere of paranoia and uneasiness. It is easy to get sucked into the mysterious plot while guessing if Martin is the person he says he is.

As usual, Neeson gives another terrific performance full of personality and emotion, and two European performers hold their own with him. German actress Diane Kruger is Gina, an illegal immigrant who tries to assist Martin and his unusual case. Her tough-as-nails attitude and sad past help to make Gina a fleshed-out individual. Swedish actor Bruno Ganz smartly depicts Ernst Jurgen, a detective of sorts who believes aiding Martin provides an opportunity to add some excitement to his dull and boring life. He makes the most of his brief scenes, including a scary confrontation with a mysterious stranger played by Frank Langella.

“Unknown” is close to being a good movie. Unfortunately, after a major revelation, it switches gears from a suspense story to a nonstop action thrill ride full of mindless hand-to-hand combat. The fight scenes could have worked if they made more sense within the context of the story. Instead, the violence feels forced because it seems as if the bloodshed belongs in a different picture altogether. Even the direction and cinematography are tonally different from the prior events.

In spite of a talented cast and crew, there is not enough to recommend “Unknown.”  With a better conclusion, this could have been something special.

Movie: Unknown
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Release Date: Feb. 16
Grade: C

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