Forget me now – Unknown review

Unknown – Starring Liam Neeson, January Jones and Diane Kruger. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Unknown is a very silly movie, but it pulls off a genuinely surprising twist in its third act, and for that I must tip my hat to it. Liam Neeson stars as Dr. Martin Harris, a botanist attending a seminar in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones). After dropping his wife off at their hotel, Martin’s free-wheeling taxi driver (Diane Kruger) accidentally plunges their transport into a river. The good doctor suffers a nasty blow to the head, winds up in a coma, and wakes up four days later only to discover that another man (Aidan Quinn) has stolen his identity. Martin implores the authorities to arrest his phony double, but, seeing as he can’t produce any ID, they dismiss him as a kook. In this day and age, you’ll need to temporarily assume he doesn’t have a Facebook profile page that he could show off, complete with pictures and pokes from Liz. Not that it would matter. Liz – weirdly – plays along with the imposter, denying that she’s ever even met Neeson’s Martin. She looks at him not with the expression of a loving wife, but with the detached blankness of an amnesiac cat. January Jones is either very good in this film, or very, very bad.

I take no pleasure in admitting that I was bested by a movie whose entire plot hinges on an amnesia-instigating bump on the noggin (perhaps inspired by the not-so-legendary Batman villain King Tut?), but all the guesses I made regarding the film’s central mystery were proven incorrect. Maybe I could blame it on the film’s aforementioned silliness, which had fooled me into thinking even the most ludicrous explanation could be possible. Don’t be mistaken – the twist is ludicrous – but it certainly isn’t the nutty Vertigo/The Prestige mash-up of a finale I had concocted in my demented little brain box. Although that would have been incredible.

But can a decent twist save a middling movie? Not quite. Neeson – perhaps suffering from an existential acting crisis following the box office success of Taken – has pared back his once considerable charm to an almost negative state. He is all gruff Batman voice, and no charisma. January Jones, who is so good as the slowly disintegrating house-wife on Mad Men, can’t even bring herself to provide an inflection to her speech here. The rest of the cast, including Kruger and Frank Langella as a mysterious ex-colleague of Martin’s, are passable, but something has clearly gone wrong when the only person having fun with their role is Bruno Ganz (a.k.a. Hitler from Downfall), as a former-Stasi-turned-private-investigator.

Jaume Collet-Serra directs this adaptation of Didier van Cauwelaert’s novel Out Of My Head as well as he can, or rather, as well as he needs to. He ably handles the few action scenes, and the movie chugs along without stalling too often. His previous thriller Orphan was better; it had a weird, kinky chutzpah to it. That being said, I’m relieved he decided not to take a similar approach here (the shower scene between the 59-year-old Neeson and 33-year-old Jones was much more than I needed in that respect, thank you very much).

2.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Unknown opens across Australia February 17, 2011.

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