Liam Neeson’s life gets “taken” and he has to fight to get it back in Unknown, the star’s best attempt so far at banking on his action hero personae. Sure Unknown is like a smorgasbord of other thrillers (the Bourne series and Frantic chief among them) rolled up into one but it does so many things right that I barely even noticed the resemblance until the lights in the theater came up. Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, who while in Berlin for a bio-technology summit suffers memory loss after his taxi gets into a car accident. Only nothing can explain what happens next.
His wife (January Jones) has no idea who he is and he has been replaced with another Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn). As the plot gets deeper we learn that this is either an elaborate conspiracy or Martin’s memory loss is worse than he thought, either way he even begins to doubt himself after a certain point. His only help comes from a private detective (Bruno Ganz) and the cabbie (Diane Kruger) of his ill-fated taxi.
The questions pile up (who are these people? How is Martin Number Two able to recite verbatim whole conversations that Martin has had with a speaker at the conference?), as do the plot twists and subtle clues.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra dials up the paranoia and suspense while the action, which includes some fights, explosions and a terrific car chase, thrills. Of course the way this all ends is very important and while it’s familiar, the ending still makes sense enough not to botch what came before it. And this is Neeson’s movie. The big, gruff action hero knocks it out of the park. Ganz also proves a definite scene stealer and Kruger and Frank Langella, playing Martin’s shady boss, offer fine support. Unknown is nothing groundbreaking but it’s effective and thrilling, and at this point in the year who could ask for anything more?