Wednesday, March 02, 2011

656 - Unknown review

The man wakes up in a Berlin hospital. He was just in a car accident, and only remembers bits and pieces. He recalls his name, a wife, a biotechnology conference, missing baggage. When the man approaches his wife, she doesn’t recognize him, and introduces an interesting new player: himself.

Thus is the premise of “Unknown,” the most recent thriller starring Liam Neeson, who since 2008’s “Taken” has been reborn as somewhat of an action hero. Impressive, considering that the career path started in his late 50’s. It’s through Neeson’s newfound tough-guy gravitas that “Unknown” has been sold, and judging from the box office receipts thus far, it was a good bet. But beyond image and marketing there’s a good thriller, here, well-paced and enjoyable.

Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, or at least that’s who he thinks he is. After that crash, his wife Liz (January Jones) denies knowing him, and points to another Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn) as proof. Understandably a bit upset and disbelieving that his injuries have made him a lunatic, Martin, or whoever he is, sets out to uncover the truth. First stop, Gina (Diane Kruger), a Bosnian illegal immigrant and the cab driver who saved his life. In minor but clever segue, her German employer rails at her for destroying the cab and declares, “Illegal immigration is ruining this country!” Certainly, Martin’s lucky that of all cab drivers he could have gotten, his was beautiful, brainy, brave, and Bosnian. Thrillers tend to work better with sidekicks like that.

Amidst a series of chases and battles with gun-toting assassins, Martin and Gina seek the help of an ex-East German secret police agent (Bruno Ganz). The agent’s specialty is tracking people down, so Martin puts him to work at finding out the who’s, when’s, where’s, and why’s of the situation.

And what does he find? Let’s just say that any further discussion would enter major spoiler territory. Important players arrive, nefarious plots are unveiled, reality comes in and out of focus. What’s not a spoiler to discuss is Neeson’s performance, one of those rock-solid jobs that manages to find that balance between sympathetic everyman and supremely capable agent of heroism. Director Jaume Collet-Serra doles out the excitement and labyrinthine plot in safely acceptable doses, and the script narrowly sidesteps being too convoluted or nonsensical for its own good. Were Hitchcock alive and working today, this might be the sort of film he’d be making. While superficial and slick at times when a better film would go deeper, “Unknown” hits the right notes, which tend to involve mystery, intrigue, and car chases. May Neeson’s action hero track endure.

3 out of 5

1 comment:

johnsal said...

Your review reflects my opinion of the film. All parts of the effort were serviceable to pretty good. One thing, however, that did surprise me **MINOR SPOILER ALERT** was the way the film incorporated genetically modified food research and production into the story. Clearly the film was Eurocentric, i.e. much of the financing and production effort was European. Well, the anti-scientific Luddites have gained almost total dominance over the regulations and laws affecting the European food industry when it comes to utilization of genetically modified plants. In fact, the term most often used there when referring to them is "Franken-foods." The real issue of increased yield and drought and pest resistance vital to the developing world is of no concern to the European authorities. Their prohibitions against GM food importation has prevented many African nations from taking full advantage of the benefits of these new techologies. And yet in the movie if one theme is clear - and the moral outcome for Neeson's character is very much NOT clear - it is that the GM scientist who discovered the secret to genetic improvements in corn, which will reduce malnutrition worldwide, is an unambiguous hero. How will the European audience receive this message? Is the anti-scientific tide turning there? It would be interesting to be a fly on the movie theater wall there.