Liam Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, a respected scientist who, while visiting Berlin with his wife (January Jones), awakens from a car accident with a case of amnesia. The more he tries to put the pieces back together, the more it seems like a conspiracy is taking place around him and his identity has been stolen. The first hour is the film’s best, as we wonder if we’re watching a man who had his life snatched from him—or if “Doctor Harris” ever existed to begin with.
After last year’s crowd-pleasing blockbuster Taken, in which Neeson killed every villain in France with his bare hands, here he is in another flick that’ll make American tourists uneasy about traveling abroad. (Neeson needs to set his next movie in Great Britain, to complete his xenophobic action trilogy.)
Unknown isn’t as sleazy as Taken, but it’s also not as good. The main flaw is the answer to the central puzzle. I won’t reveal—or even hint at—it, except to say it feels like a cheat and undercuts the story’s humanity. So does the predictably explosive conclusion, which packs a few minor punches but breaks no new ground.
Veteran actors Bruno Ganz and Frank Langhella share one great scene but otherwise don’t make much of an impression. Jones, of Mad Men fame, wears the same pouty look throughout and is ill-matched with Neeson; couldn’t they have gotten a sexy, age-appropriate co-star like Julianne Moore or Joan Allen? Aiden Quinn plays a barely-defined yet adequately hissable villain. Really, though, it’s Neeson’s show all the way.
I grew up with Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis as my action heroes and haven’t been crazy about their modern-day replacements—one-note beefcakes like Vin Diesel and Jason Statham who are fine at what they do but don’t appear capable of doing much else.
Neeson has the look for this type of movie—he’s tall, quick and disarmingly intimidating. Yet he’s also a very good actor, a guy who’s played everything from Oskar Schindler to sex guru Alfred Kinsey to a Jedi knight and endowed each character with believability, authority and soul. I like the idea of him driving the action franchises of the future—even so-so vehicles like this one.