by Ore Fakorede
There are certain actors who have nothing left to prove in the action genre. With each purposeful blow, gunshot or slice of a blade from a cop who is taking on enemies far bigger than himself (Bruce Willis in the ‘Die Hard’ trilogy) or a criminal racing against time to save his own life (Jason Statham in the ‘Crank’ movies), these masters of on-screen violence make it clear that they have mastered their craft.
It is in continuation of that celebrated tradition of smoke, guns and fire that 58 year-old veteran Liam Neeson teams up with the graceful Diane Kruger in ‘Unknown’, a high-octane thriller directed by Spanish movie maker Jaume Collet-Serra (‘Orphan’, ‘House Of Wax’). Although based on a screenplay adapted from Didier Van Cauwerlaert’s brilliant novel, ‘Out Of My Head’, the movie’s intricately-woven plot has Robert Ludlum’s name written all over it. Featuring a potent mix of car chases through the streets of a European city, cold and calculating killers, an endangered Saudi Prince, cutting-edge technology and a conspiracy theory, ‘Unknown’ could very well have been cut from the same cloth as the critically-acclaimed ’Bourne’ movies.
The movie opens as Martin Harris (Neeson), an affectionate, mild-mannered American botanist flies into Berlin for a global biotechnology summit with his wife (played by the delectable January Jones). The phrase “one small mistake can alter a man’s life” takes on new meaning as Harris’ briefcase is accidentally left behind at the airport. This mistake starts a chain reaction that brings Harris in contact with Gina, a Bosnian illegal working as a taxi driver. The botanist realises he has been replaced by a man who bears his name and who apparently has been living his life (with concrete proof), drawing Harris into a dark agenda revolving around a scientific breakthrough of life-altering proportions.
From the unbelievably detailed car crash in which Harris suffers severe head trauma, to Neeson’s shrewd portrayal of the troubled man stripped of his identity and denied by the woman he has called his wife for five years, ‘Unknown’ is a riveting tale which attempts to reinvent the action/thriller genre. In one memorable scene, Harris says to a psychiatrist: “Do you know what insane feels like? It’s like a war between being told who you are and knowing who you are”. ‘Unknown’ derives its cinematic appeal from the picturesque expression of the fury of that mental struggle. The movie exploits the air of suspense generated by the ominous undercurrent that Harris is an expired pawn in a sinister game where players are often ‘retired’ without warning.
The movie gets predictable as Neeson’s character regains his memories. This predictability (along with the inexplicable way that things seem to appear in the right place at the right time) gives the ending a slightly anticlimactic flavour. However, the macabre deaths and intense fireworks that precede the end credits make up for the plot’s few flaws.
Although Neeson’s manically resolute and irrepressible Martin Harris is the star of the show, he has a more than adequate sidekick in the slick and streetwise Gina. Passionately enacted by Diane Kruger, Gina finds herself drawn to Harris, and she goes against her sense of self-preservation to help a man in dire straits. And help she provides indeed, saving Harris one too many times in the movie’s one hour and fifty minutes.
A trail of bodies lie in Harris’ wake as secondary characters drop like flies. One of such unfortunate souls is (spoiler alert! ) retired German spy turned private investigator, Ernst Jurgen (played by Bruno Ganz) who brings some desperately needed wit and comic relief to the dialogues in a number of scenes. Aidan Quinn, who plays the false Martin Harris is an excellent impostor who dies a painful death at the hands of the real one (or was he made-up too?). January Jones puts in a twisted performance as a woman torn between duty and humanity. Her character’s brilliantly executed fiery exit from this world is worth a triple-take.
‘Unknown’ underachieves slightly due to the fact that its whimsical plot derives from an evidently overstretched imagination. It should be noted that very hardly do movies get away with ‘crimes of the mind’ as easily as Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ did. Nonetheless, ‘Unknown’ comes off as a well-made movie that will no doubt thrill fans of the pure action genre and keep them glued to their seats till the very last frame fades to black.
Now Showing At: Ozone Cinemas (1:05 pm, 3:35 pm, 6:00 pm and 8:30 pm daily)