« Abyss-mal | Main | Sins From a Marriage »

The Mouse That Has but One Hole

Unknown (2011)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Liam Neeson continues his descent from leading-man respectability to run-of-the-mill action star in “Unknown,” a passable Hitchockian thriller. For a time, director Jaume Collet-Serra sustains the mystery at the picture’s core with a hint of vivid conspiratorial edge, but the movie builds up to a climax that makes one question whether it was ever worth the effort.

Mr. Neeson plays noted biologist Martin Harris, newly arrived in Berlin with wife Elizabeth (Jennifer Jones, almost shockingly terrible) for a tech conference. For Martin, a forgotten briefcase spurs an unexpected cab ride, an accident and a coma. When the doctor wakes up, remembers where he’s supposed to have been and finds his wife, she claims not to recognize him, while another man (Aidan Quinn) has convincingly assumed his identity.

The rest of the screenplay by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell follows the identification-less Martin as he traverses the German capital on a quest to unravel his mess with a neatly coiffed, stern assassin following close behind. The journey takes the doctor to the beautiful cab driver who saved his life (Diane Kruger) and ex-Stasi private investigator Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), who eagerly joins the project. It’s mostly standard Euro thriller territory: iconic urban locales, sleek car chases, throbbing underground clubs and scenes of sneaking into and out of buildings and disappearing in crowds.

The film only departs from the norm during Martin’s brief, intense struggle with sanity, an understandable burden for a man presented with convincing evidence that he’s literally not himself. As the soundtrack swells and the camera starts to slowly shake and tilt, scenes centered on such sudden shocking revelations as, say, the new Martin Harris having the same honeymoon photo of Elizabeth, are the only times Mr. Neeson has to do much acting.

Otherwise, the star is faced with the less-than-daunting challenge of making a 45-degree shift from his “Taken” persona. The only real difference: He’s asked to embody the wronged-man version of the distinguished ass-kicker, rather than the slick alpha male Rambo-in-a-suit persona.

With human interest kept to a minimum and a dearth of exciting set pieces, the entire movie depends on the ease with which its makers unpack and add layers to the central puzzle. The plot elements they come up with, however, are too thin to sustain the two-hour-plus run time, which leads to ample narrative meandering and a mood that alternates between rote existential panic at best and passive disinterest at worst.

A killer, mind-blowing conclusion, an epic, better-than-Shyamalan-in-his-prime twist might have saved things by adding weight and a renewed, retrospective urgency to the proceedings, but the filmmakers flame out in that department. While the prospect of Mr. Neeson with a vengeance still has some mileage to it, it’s probably best to just re-watch “Taken,” or get an authentic Hitchcock kick by popping in that “The Man Who Knew Too Much” DVD.


Opens on Feb. 18 in the United States and on March 4 in Britain.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, based on the novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert; director of photography, Flavio LaBiano; edited by Tim Alverson; music by John Ottman and Alexander Rudd; production design by Richard Bridgland; costumes by Ruth Myers; produced by Joel Silver, Leonard Goldberg and Andrew Rona; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Liam Neeson (Dr. Martin Harris), Diane Kruger (Gina), January Jones (Elizabeth Harris), Aidan Quinn (Martin B), Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jürgen), Frank Langella (Rodney Cole) and Sebastian Koch (Professor Bressler).


Post a comment

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.

© 2008-2024 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on X
Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions | Powered by TypePad