Liam Neeson’s impressive performance as Oscar Schindler was well worthy of a nomination for an Academy Award. But, as he steps away from dramatic acting and towards the action genre his performances over the past years have shown little in comparison to his greatest film. While his acting may have suffered, action films such as Taken prove that the fifty-nine year old “Neck-chop” Neeson can still pack a punch.
A severe car crash puts Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) in to a coma. He awakens four days later without identification and with gaps in his memory. He quickly discovers that someone has taken his identity and that no one, not even his wife, recognises or believes him. With the help of a young woman, Gina (Diane Kruger), he sets out to prove who he is.
Surprisingly, unlike the character’s he’s played of late, Dr. Martin Harris spends much more time fleeing from his pursuers rather than fighting them off, neck-chop after neck-chop. At first this is seen as a positive, where Neeson plays a much more realistic character that hasn’t been exaggerated to great lengths. However, the problem arises as the film’s focus soon falls on Neeson’s acting, which is disappointing. He does his utmost best as he wanders the streets of Germany slowly working his way through the spectrum of confused expressions, from perplexed through to clueless, but unfortunately he doesn’t do enough to create an identifiable character.
Fans of action-Neeson however will be pleased to read that he eventually indulges in a few more fight scenes, but although they are well shot and well choreographed they fail to reach the same levels as his previous films, such as Taken and The A-Team.
Much like her counterpart in this film, Diane Kruger’s career is a blend of highs and lows. Marred by appearing alongside Mr. Inconsistency himself, Nicolas Cage, in the National Treasure films her career has since been revived due to a stunning performance as Bridget von Hammersmark in Tarantino’s fantastic Inglorious Basterds. The German-born actress provides a realistic and immediately likeable performance as Gina; delivering every line with her instantly recognisable broken-English accent. While Tarantino may have extracted true quality from her for his film, she remains underused in Unknown and returns to her previous roles as little more than the protagonist’s sidekick.
Unknown’s slow narrative is solidly focussed on discovering who the protagonist is and what happened during the four days he was comatose. Suspense is key for this film and the thriller genre, but any attempt in this film to build any is either poorly executed or nonexistent. There are only a handful of scenes that achieve any level of suspense, but they have little to do with the narrative and therefore wasted. Due to the sluggish narrative Unknown requires an injection of pace and specifically action. When it eventually arrives, towards the film’s conclusion, it fails to arrive with the explosive excitement that many other, much better thrillers have.
If you manage to survive the unengaging narrative you’ll be met with a twist that unfortunately is not very creative or unexpected. A disappointing performance from Liam Neeson and the underused quality of Diane Kruger results in an unsatisfying film.