As soon as I heard about Unknown, the latest action thriller starring Liam Neeson, I quickly brushed it off as just an attempt to capture the box office magic Taken was able to capture. I found Taken to be so ridiculous that I lost all interest in the film by the final act. It wasn't until I heard that there was a twist ending in Unknown, that I regained interest in it. Unknown turned out to be a tense Hitchcock-like thriller that greatly exceeded my expectations.
Unknown follows Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) on his business trip to Berlin. He eventually is involved in a car accident where he gets amnesia. When he returns to his wife and work associates, they have no recollection of Harris. In fact, another person has taken his place as Dr. Martin Harris. Now he has to find a way to prove that he really is Dr. Martin Harris and get his life back.
This is now two unexpectedly good films in a row from Juame Collet-Serra (who also directed the horror film Orphan). While he did benefit from great scripts with interesting premises both times (Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell wrote the script based off a novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert), there has to be something that he is doing that are making his films work. He does a great job of capturing a very claustrophobic and Hitchcockian atmosphere. He also films some of the best action sequences of the year. He definitely has a good eye for action. Most importantly, however, Collet-Serra is able to perfectly handle the twist. The twist comes a bit earlier than you would expect and in a lesser hand, the film would have climaxed too early. Collet-Serra doesn't let this happen and is able to create an engaging ending.
This is definitely Collet-Serra's film so the ensemble is only a mixed bag. Liam Neeson is very good here and finally (at least in my eyes) proves he can handle an action film. It's a very athletic role and forces Neeson to bring multiple sides of himself to the role. He does it all exceptionally. Diane Kruger is always a great addition to any cast and this film is no exception. She is the best actress in the film by far. Which brings me to the worst of the cast, January Jones. Jones has a very spotty acting record. She is great in Mad Men (at least in the early seasons) and was good in X-Men: First Class, but she might have been the worst host I have ever seen on SNL. Here she is much closer to her SNL hosting duty. She completely kills any scene she is in and makes any of Liam Nesson's interactions with her look silly. The supporting cast includes two stellar performances from veteran actors in Frank Langella (who plays a mentor to Liam Neeson's character) and a creepy Bruno Ganz (as a man who helps Liam Neeson's character.
For an action film, Unknown includes some great behind the camera elements. The sound mix is pretty interesting and allows the twists and turns to be even creepier and weirder than they should be with a chilling turn from loud to silence. The cinematography is good and allows the viewer to see all of the action and keep the quiet scenes interesting. The best of the below the line elements, though, is the editing which keeps the film at a fast pace and never confuses the audience with its flashes to the past and back.
Unknown is a pretty good action film with an atmosphere that does a great homage to a Hitchcock film. If Liam Neeson decides to do action films for the rest of the career, I won't be happy, but I'm not as worried as I once was after this film.
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