Liam Neeson has two modes: ordinary family man, and bad ass action hero. Not many actors can straddle the line as well as he can.
It's what made him so fun to watch in Taken. Apparently director Jaume Collet-Serra saw that movie, because he asked Neeson to do it again.
He's back once more in a strange European territory, where the language barrier makes the bad guys more intimidating.
Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, who visits Berlin with his wife, Liz (January Jones), for a scientific conference. Before he can check into his hotel room, a car accident sends him into a four day coma. He reawakens without any ID, just the memory of his wife, and the upsetting realization she's not there with him.
So Dr. Harris goes back to the hotel to find her. She's in a black dress, schmoozing with other guests of the hotel. When she turns around and looks him in the eyes, there's no emotion. She doesn't know who he is, and says she's never met him. That's when the "real" Dr. Martin Harris walks up beside her, and suddenly the "fake" Dr. Harris is kindly escorted out of the hotel.
He wanders through a strange city, without any way to prove he is the man he claims to be. The set up makes us wonder whether the accident has caused the memory lapse (as his doctor warned), or whether there really is something more sinister going on.
Strange people begin chasing him -- so yes, there is something more sinister going on.
The first half sets up everything we need to know, in a way that's easy to understand. The mystery is interesting, and because Dr. Harris struggles with something as simple as getting a hotel room for the night, his plight has a real, down to earth human touch. We can sympathize with his plight, and we want him to succeed because he's a genuinely good guy.
But in these sorts of thrillers, the twists and turns eventually lead to motion sickness.
I could tell how high or low my interest level was based solely on the action sequences. When I was following the story, the car chases were riveting, and exciting. It helped that they were shot in a clean, coordinated way, and weren't edited with reckless abandon. They were enjoyable to watch, but I also cared about the outcome.
Once my interest began to wane, coincidentally about the time the plot starting taking a nosedive, even the most well choreographed and competently staged action scenes (and there are many in the last thirty minutes) felt like a chore to watch.
Setting up the mystery looked effortless. But revealing the mystery looked like a rush job by writers who threw something together after staying up for two nights drinking Red Bulls. It's sloppy, big, and hardly satisfying.
I realized something as I sat through the last thirty minutes in utter boredom.
In this film, the less we know about what's going on, the better it is.
Two out of four stars.
Unknown opens in theaters today.
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