Don’t tell me that the brainteasing thriller Unknown is unworthy of Hitchcock. State the obvious much? But ignore the pileup of implausibilities and Unknown becomes a diabolically entertaining con game. Does it jerk you around? Yes. Suck it up. The ride’s worth it.
From the moment Liam Neeson, as Dr. Martin Harris, arrives in a rainy, seductively dangerous Berlin for a biotech conference, I was hooked. Not by the conference – biotech, puh-leeze! What drew me in during the limo ride from the airport was the va-voom Betty Draper blonde nuzzling Martin in the back seat. That’s his wife, Elizabeth, played by January Jones with the same opaque sexiness that makes mad men of us all.
Before Martin and the missus can check into a chic hotel for erotic grapplings that are shown in flashback, Martin must rush back to the airport for a briefcase he left behind. Really? Really! Look, I said, go with it or drop out now. As plot manipulation would have it, Martin’s taxi is being driven by another hottie, Gina (Diane Kruger), who swerves to avoid an accident and drops into a river, where Martin suffers a head injury. After four days of amnesia, he rushes back to wifey only to find her clinging to another guy (Aidan Quinn), who says he’s Martin. WTF?
In 2008’s surprise hit Taken, Neeson spent the movie kicking the ass of baddies trying to sell his daughter into white slavery. In Unknown, Neeson kicks ass to save himself from identity theft. Not as sexy, but the script keeps springing surprises (I’ll never tell), and director Jaume Collet-Serra gives the action a slick-dick gloss worthy of every ad he ever shot for PlayStation or Budweiser.
Neeson brings gravitas and sneaky wit to his role. He’s a star with something extra. His scenes with Kruger, the glam spy of Inglourious Basterds, sizzle. And watching him play cat-and-mouse with acting giants Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz as men you maybe shouldn’t trust is a genuine bonus. Unknown makes it fun to be fooled, even if you hate yourself in the morning.