starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aiden Quinn, and Frank Langella
directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
screenplay by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell
Warner Bros. Pictures (2011)
Liam Neeson is a lot like Denzel Washington, at least in one regard: he's a consummate actor who has a track record for starring in some very lackluster films, some just godawful. So, in which category does Unknown belong?
Liam plays Dr. Martin Harris, a scientist arriving in Berlin to take part in a conference on bio-technology. After arriving at his hotel alongside his wife, played by January Jones for some reason, he realizes he's forgotten his briefcase back at the airport. On the cab ride back, there's an accident and the cab careens off a bridge into the river below. He gets a concussion and wakes up in a hospital a few days later. When he finally reunites with his wife at the opening gala, she acts like she's never seen him before. Even crazier is when she introduces another man, played by Aiden Quinn, as her real husband. Say what? I know, but that's only the start.
After getting kicked out of the hotel, with little more than the cash in his pocket. Confused as to why his wife would pretend not to know him, and downright gobsmacked that someone has stolen his identity, he searches for answers by enlisting an aging private eye and the cab driver who pulled him from the sinking car. What ensues may be the most convoluted, insanely intricate thriller I've seen in years--and that's counting the Bourne movies.
Liam Neeson plays the sane man in an insane world part as well as he ever has. As for Aiden Quinn as his nemesis, he's about as good a choice for the role as I can think of, since there is something in even his most innocuous deliveries that makes his detestable. Supporting roles from Diane Kruger as the cab driver and Frank Langella as one of Liam's friends sought out to vouch for his true identity are welcome additions to the cast and lend a lot of credibility to this at times silly plot. But if there is a wink link to the cast, it has to be January Jones. I don't know how impressive she's been on Mad Men (I've never seen the show, myself), but her wooden, stilted performance was so distracting and unconvincing I am left to wonder how she got the part in the first place. Throw in the all-too-noticeable age difference between her and Liam Neeson, and her very presence on screen is discomforting.
The twists in the plot do create a fair bit of suspense as Liam is gallivanting about, but it takes a real suspension of disbelief to go along with this movie until the end. At least there is a level of satisfaction, a certain amount of "oh, that's why that happened" to lend some credibility to the outlandish moments. And if you can put up with January Jones' bad acting, the movie ain't that bad at all. A far cry from a Le Carre inspired film, but it serves its purpose.