Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Bruno Ganz, Aiden Quinn, and Frank Langella
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Rating: Six of Ten Stars
While in Berlin for a scientific conference, Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) wakes up after a serious car accident to find a stranger has assumed his life in every detail, even apparently the affections of his wife (Jones). Martin turns to the only witness of the accident he can find (Kruger) and a retired East German spy (Ganz) for help in proving he really is who he says he is. And that's when the assassins start stalking him and killing everyone he makes contact with....
"Unknown" is one of those movies it's hard to talk about without ruining the whole thing, because it relies on plot twists and secrets for its effectiveness. Without spoiling too much, I can say that the story is sort of a cross between the 1956 version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and the 1938 version of "The Lady Vanishes", except in this case it's the main character who has, basically, vanished and he has to pick his way through a deadly cloud of lies and violent spies. The twists and reversals as the film unfolds sets it apart from those two Hitchcock classics, but I think if you enjoyed those films, you'll be entertained by this one as well.
Overall, the film is well-paced and it's revelations are timed appropriately to keep the story going. There's a car chase in the middle of the film that is extremely ridiculous as it's unfolding--suddenly, a university researcher and biologist is able to drive a stick-shift in a fashion that most racecar- and stunt drivers envious--but once all the pieces of the puzzle have been revealed--it makes sense. It's a weak point of the film that just a few lines of dialogue between Martin and his wife at the beginning of the film could have dealt with and the film would have been better for it.
The film would also have been better if the director had been a little less in love with shaky-cam footage, jump-cuts, and extreme close-ups during action sequences. I'm there are viewers out there for whom such techniques make the film more exciting--why else would so many directors over-use them as severely as they do?--but for me they become very, very annoying when used in excess like they are here. Give me Hitchcock's nice steady shots any day over the Alcoholic Monkey with the DTs technique on display in so many scenes, as well as the ADD editing style. Admittedly, it's not as bad here as in some movies, but it's enough to get annoying.
Despite its flaws, "Unknown" still emerges as an entertaining thriller. Just see it at a matinee, or go on days when the popcorn is cheap. Or, better yet, wait three months for the DVD to be available. You'll be more satisfied, because you won't feel like you've wasted money.