4 March 2011
In Unknown, Neeson is Martin Harris, a professor of biotechnology. Or is he? While attending a summit in Berlin, he's involved in a painful car accident, which leaves him slightly less certain. His confusion is only exacerbated by the fact that his wife Liz doesn't recognise him, and there is another Martin Harris in his place. So it's off around Berlin for the absent-minded professor, with shootouts and fisticuffs aplenty through his quest to recover his identity.
As mentioned, Neeson hasn't just started doing this recently, though Taken was the surprise hit that made him a bankable action star. Although he is arguably most famous for Schindler's List, he's continued to pepper his CV with roles in films like Darkman and Rob Roy. If you do only know Neeson from Schindler's List, it would be wrong to expect anything as serious. However, the film does have a supporting turn from Bruno Ganz, better known for playing Hitler in YouTube rants than for playing Hitler in Downfall, by which logic, you get to see Oskar Schindler pal up with Adolf Hitler.
But the benefit of Neeson's experience is that he goes for roles in which he seems to genuinely find depth of character- he is an actor of great prestige, and his presence alone can really elevate genre films. I'd say that he's good as an action star because he's acquired his skills over a very long career, but I can't be that guy. Reading the interviews he's done to promote Unknown, his reasons for taking this role are related to inhabiting the psychological state of a character who has lost his identity in the most traumatic way imaginable. He's a reliable talent, so once you've pay up and sit down in your cinema seat, you could be forgiven for only then realising the emperor is not wearing any clothes.
I say all this not because it's a bad film, but because it wasn't engaging enough to distract me from all of the stuff that it had borrowed from other films. It's nothing like the woeful I Am Number Four, not by any stretch, but the film it sounds most like is The Bourne Identity, and it completely conforms to any expectations related to that. Although it has shootouts and fisticuffs and car chases and other interesting stuff, but they all come from Bourne too- the influence of that trilogy on modern action cinema cannot be overstated. Because the regular action sequences are just so regular, there are things I couldn't overlook, and the first was the likeness to Bourne.
The second was the way that this is another film where Liam Neeson has a bone to pick with Europe. In Taken, he tortured every other person he could find in Paris in search of his daughter. Here, he's behaving himself enough that the film gets a 12A rating, but the xenophobia is still there. I know the film's based on a book set in Germany, written by a German author, but I still found it amusing that someone thought of Neeson's name after Taken made a hit out of an (alleged) American going to Europe and causing mayhem.
Unknown is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Unknown, why not share your comments below?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.