After Taken, Liam Neeson seems to be developing a knack for European made films where:
1. He stars as an American stranger in Europe, and where
2. His family is in danger, and
3. only Neeson's carefully manipulated violence can save the day.
On the positive side, Unknown is more sophisticated than its predecessor.
Neeson stars as Dr Martin Harris, an American scientist arriving for a professional conference at Berlin. He arrives with his beautiful wife (January Jones) to their hotel but realizes he lost a briefcase on the way; leaving his wife at the hotel, he picks up a taxi to return to the airport. Big mistake! On the way back to the airport he finds himself in the middle of a serious accident, with the foreign taxi driver (Diane Kruger) saving him from drowning at the nick of time.
Martin wakes up at the hospital, surprised to see no one waiting on him other than medical stuff (in their credit it has to be said that Germany looks like the best place to be in need of a hospital). Eventually he goes back to his hotel and the conference, where he finds his wife with another man - a man who also claims to be a Dr Martin Harris and won't willingly go away once Neeson shows up. What could be the reason behind this identity theft? And why isn't Neeson's wife bothered by her new husband?
The concept of sophisticated identity theft is a nice one to base a film on. It certainly is relevant to this day and age, where so much information on so many of us is freely available on the web - usually donated by us - making the life of an identity thief particularly easy. Unknown capitalizes on this modern times' reality, but does so in a fairly superficial way. It never sets out to offer a thought provoking discussion; it prefers to stick to the tried and tested arena of action packed thrills mixed with plot twists. To its credit, Unknown does quite a decent job at this niche it picked on, even if it is a bit of a waste given the base potential: I was certainly thrilled and excited, willing to let go when things didn't make much sense.
Needless to say, the likes of Kruger are not cast on film for the sake of a thirty second role; she's too beautiful for that. Sooner rather than later our prudent taxi driver returns to the thick of the plot, with the end result reminding me a lot of two films. First there's Frantic, which is incredibly similar in plot and all, only that its emphasis is not on the action. Second there's Total Recall, which is yet another film where everything you knew for real might not be real at all and where the wife turns out to have a secret or two of her own. January Jones might not equal Sharon Stone by any stretch of the imagination, but Kruger certainly outlooks Rachel Ticotin.
As mentioned, Unknown does have more than a scene or two where the implausible is expected to be taken for granted. For instance, we have a scene where Dr Martin takes a shower at the taxi driver's flat. One minute he's in the shower, the next minute an assassin bursts through the door looking for him. Where is our hero?
The next time we see the doctor he's up there on the roof, fully clothed. He sure is fast at drying himself up and getting dressed!
Technical assessment: While the picture quality on this DVD is inconsistent, probably in an attempt to create a certain "European" (?) atmosphere, the sound is quite good. I suspect Unknown would make a decent Blu-ray experience.
Overall: Not without flows, but exciting enough for me to gloss over them and give Unknown 3.5 out of 5 stars.