One good turn deserves another. Liam Neeson is like fine wine and gets better with age. He's pushing 60, but that doesn't mean he cannot kick ass, which he did to perfection as an ex black ops hunting down his daughter and her abductors through the streets of Paris. In Unknown, he plays Dr Martin Harris, a researcher invited to a bio-technology congress in Berlin, only to find his identification papers missing, getting involved in a near fatal accident, and if his week has not been great, culminates in having his wife (January Jones) no longer recognizing him, and acknowledging another as the husband/himself instead. Talk about a major identity crisis and theft!
Based on the novel Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert, this Euro-thriller directed by Jaume Collet-Serra uses plenty of familiar plot elements of such mystery thrillers, but turn them completely on their heads that they are still able to provide the necessary thrills and spills complete with twists and turns that makes this one heck of an intelligent film, albeit with some minor loopholes. But don't let that detract you from what seemed like an update of The Fugitive, with the protagonist on a constant run from those who want him dead, while at the same time assembling bits and pieces of information that can be used to prove his innocence, or in this case, identity.
Identity theft has always fascinated, and I suppose one should be of some value, be it social stature or credit, for someone to try and impersonate you, more easily online than in person, given our connectivity these days, where photographs, websites and social media networks probably serving as that double edged sword in having our identities proven, or stolen. Neeson's Martin Harris finds to his amazement that his closest kin in a foreign land would want to pretend not to know him, and the set up for the mystery here is of course the presence of someone (Aidan Quinn) who purports to be the same person, leading one to wonder how far does the conspiracy go, and to what value and involvement is Martin Harris up against.
I believe Liam Neeson can probably now sleepwalk through roles like this one, with his size giving him that physical edge in fisticuffs, those deep facial lines adding that sense of intellect and gravitas, and that iconic, booming voice that just screams authority. Aiding his character is Diane Kruger as Gina the illegal immigrant part time taxi driver who had picked up Dr. Martin Harris early in the film, and found herself, her passenger and her cab plunge into a river no thanks to an accident, and being on the wrong side of things, stuck in the same conspiracy that Harris is trying to unravel.
For fans of the German film Downfall, or that of the well-spoofed clip of Hitler ranting in his bunker, will find Bruno Ganz no stranger. As Ernst Jurgen the one time East German military intelligence who hears of Harris' far fetched story and had piqued his interest, perhaps amongst all the scenes in the film, the one involving Ganz opposite Frank Langella is my favourite from the film, that goes to show that the elderly have enough between them to hold the film through a critical scene, hinting of danger throughout yet never necessitating big action sequences to steal everyone's thunder.
And credit of course goes to the director who kept the pace quick, the story tight, and containing enough action - the car chase sequence was impressively designed so kudos to the stunt team for pulling it off - to keep it engaging for an audience. Collet-Serra's filmography is very mixed at best, responsible for the horror film House of Wax, the footballing drama Goal II, and another psychological thriller Orphan, that will put this effort of his as probably the best one yet. Granted there is a huge parallel with one of the more contemporary spy thrillers in the last decade, but to mention that by name will blunt one's enjoyment at not knowing just what may pop up.
For fans of Taken, this is a worthy follow up, perhaps not as much action as the former, but definitely as engaging from a story perspective. Highly recommended!