Just over two years ago, Liam Neeson picked up a phone and told a stranger that he had “a very particular set of skills,” skills that he had “acquired over a very long career,” and so on and so forth, in the surprise hit Taken. After pulling in $226 million worldwide, it’s not a surprise that Warner Brothers would want to capture some of that unlikely blockbuster and put it to use in a film of its own. Hence, we get Unknown, about an American played by Liam Neeson (including Neeson’s hardy, faulty American accent) traveling in a major European city trying to find the most important woman in his life and return everything back to normal.
Unknown isn’t a carbon copy of Taken – Neeson is a renowned biologist in the new feature, not a hit man – but there was more than a slight resemblance, which didn’t bode very well. Taken didn’t do much to revive the action genre; but it at least had Liam Neeson at the center, hamming it up in a manner only an over-qualified actor is capable of in a popcorn flick.
I was hoping Liam Neeson would bring a similar vibe to Unknown, but he never ventures so far into Mandom with this role. The guy can be likable without trying, but as a puny scientist he never gets the chance to calmly warn someone that he’s about to commit kill their ass with lead.
But, luckily for Unknown, the rest of the picture works better than Neeson’s 2009 film. Within the first five minutes, Neeson’s character, Martin, has suffered from a near-fatal attack and four day coma. When he wakes up, he finds that another man has seemingly stepped into Martin’s identity – his job, his friends, even his wife all belong to another face. Martin begins to suspect he’s gone crazy when – ohpp, look at that, assassins try to kill him.
It gets pretty dumb from this point on, but credit the script for letting the character wander around the city of Berlin for half of the movie with absolutely no idea of what’s going on. At times it feels squandering, but in general the sheer mystery and the movie’s unwillingness to let you in on any of the truth kept me curious.
When we finally do figure out what’s happening, it comes pretty far out of left field, dangerously close to Deus ex machina terratory. But the explanation is fun enough that it’s not very bothersome. Stupid, yes; but entertaining? Also yes.
I walked out of the movie and heard a lot of griping from the rest of the audience, and I can’t blame them. It’s a stupid thriller, and if you don’t buy into it it’ll be a boring one too.
If I get into any discussions about Unknown, I won’t have much to say in its defense, but I’ll know that I, at least, had a good enough time.