Last time, they took his daughter – this time, they’re after his identity. While not an actual sequel to 2008’s popular film “Taken,” “Unknown” follows a similar pattern of action and suspense centered around a resilient warrior trying to stay one step ahead of ruthless villains. The tension remains consistent and the spattering of action sequences impresses, yet “Unknown” can’t maintain the same level of thrills as its predecessor due largely in part to a plot that starts to waver with each new reveal. It’s certainly not predictable, but the rather tired stolen identity and amnesia angle isn’t nearly as satisfying as the rescue and revenge path. Liam Neeson proves once again, however, that watching him kick ass doesn’t get old.
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) arrive in Berlin for a biotechnology summit that will feature several high-profile world leaders and scientists. When Dr. Harris realizes he’s left his briefcase at the airport and attempts to return for it, his taxi is involved in a car accident that leaves him in a coma. Upon awakening four days later, Martin learns that another man has assumed his identity and that his wife no longer recognizes him. Battling with his fractured memories and the surmounting evidence pointing towards his own insanity, Harris begins an exhaustive search for answers that leads him to the cab driver that saved his life (Diane Kruger), a former German intelligence agent (Bruno Ganz), and those that would attempt to silence him forever.
The film opens with a few bizarrely coincidental similarities to the incredibly obscure 1991 Tom Berenger film “Shattered,” but then vaults full swing into a taut, white-knuckle mystery that takes identity theft to whole new levels. The doppelgangers, paranoia, overlooked details, memory loss, general confusion, and Hitchcockian switched identity dilemmas culminate in a grand conspiracy theory that is as engrossing as it is improbable. Harris must not only deal with cops, doctors, and business associates that don’t believe him, but also surviving in a foreign country with a language barrier, no friends, no place to go, and general isolation – plus a few assassins. It’s a supremely engaging premise for a thriller.
Every character is interesting and nothing is what it seems. Hand-to-hand combat, destructive car chases (unfortunately topped off with CG vehicles), and knife-wielding killers complete the formula for a Liam Neeson actioner, along with the increasingly generic elements of nightclub locales, disbelieving security guards, and an attractive woman who becomes unwittingly involved in death and mayhem while still expressing uncommon bravery. With a few more films like this, Neeson will be a regular action hero.
The setup is so smartly achieved that even scenes comprised of nothing more than two elderly men calmly, casually conversing manages to be nerve-wracking and unpredictable. Sadly, it’s a difficult act to follow, so the consistency begins to falter toward the conclusion; explanations, realizations, and motives are revealed as contrived, foiling its lasting power. There’s simply no good way to end “Unknown” without being overly neat and tidy – or at least screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell couldn’t come up with one while adapting the novel “Out of My Head” by Didier van Cauwelaert, a story that desperately wanted to be a movie.