Decent Plot, Bland Characters

Main Cast: Liam Neeson, January Jones, Diane Kruger

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

I really like Liam Neeson as the badass dad in Taken – I like geezer action movies.  I was hoping he would deliver some of the same in Unknown.  My bad.

Unknown PosterUnknown starts out with the familiar premise of amnesia, but gives it a little twist.  Martin Harris (Neeson) is going to a conference in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones).  After leaving his briefcase behind at the airport he jumps in a taxi to retrieve it only to be in an accident on the way.  He wakes up in a hospital and knows who he is but finds his world not as he left it.  There’s nobody looking for him, his wife doesn’t recognize him, there’s another Dr. Martin Harris at the conference he was supposed to attend and there’s someone trying to kill him.  He is, understandably, quite confused.

Unraveling the mystery is fun – it’s more complicated than it looks and the plot is decent.  Neeson’s character, on the other hand, is not so likable, nor are any of the others.  Martin is arrogant and rude.  Neeson plays him with some weird gravelly voice that makes me wonder if he thinks he’s a cross between Dirty Harry and Batman.  It doesn’t work.  There’s no emotional investment in this man – I don’t like him so I don’t much care what happens to him.

The rest of the cast fares equally badly, though more because of the way they are written than the way they are played.  Writers Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell give January Jones the unenviable task of playing the much younger, mostly vacuous wife.  She gets a little more meat as the film progresses, but not enough to save the character.  Aiden Quinn shows up as Martin #2 and frankly he’s unrecognizable.  He’s fine, but very, very bland.  Diane Kruger is the cab driver who has the misfortune of causing Martin’s accident and he drags her into his drama since he can’t find anyone else to help.  Yet another age inappropriate coupling (though there’s no sex), their scenes are remarkably awkward.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra just doesn’t manage to quite pull this one together.  He has a strong plot and on paper a good cast.  But the characters are bland or annoying and unengaging enough that by the time we get around to solving the mystery we really don’t care much.  His previous work in The Orphan is far more atmospheric.  He scored with a phenomenal performance from Isabelle Fuhrman in that one – here his main cast lets him down.

Overall, Unknown isn’t an actively offensive movie.  It’s just mediocre – good mystery but played out by barely average performances and uninteresting characters.  Maybe a good choice for a sick day freebie.  3 stars our of 5.


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