Editors' pick

Unknown

Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama
Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) awakens after a mysterious car accident in Berlin to discover that his wife (January Jones) doesn't recognize him and that another man (Aidan Quinn) assumed his identity. Though the premise is basically implausible, the film is enjoyable for its subtlety and sophistication.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Running time: 1:20
Release: Opened Feb 18, 2011
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Editorial Review

Action hero Neeson ages well
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, February 18, 2011

Perhaps no one was more surprised than Liam Neeson when the thriller "Taken" became a sneaker smash-hit in 2008. Thus did the powerfully built Irishman, serious actor and heartthrob, find himself facing the unlikely second act of middle-aged action star.

"Unknown" finds Neeson settling comfortably into that mode, in a film that trades the lurid extremes of "Taken" for a more subtle, sophisticated vibe. Neeson plays horticulture professor Martin Harris, who as the film opens arrives for a biotech conference in Berlin with his wife, Liz (January Jones). When Harris inadvertently leaves his briefcase - containing his passport - on the Berlin airport curb, a series of domino-effect mishaps ensue, including a taxi ride that ends with him plunging into an icy river before being saved by the car's driver (Diane Kruger). In a coma for four days, Harris awakes with a spotty memory, and his sense of disorientation grows when his conference colleagues and even his wife don't seem to recognize him.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from a novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert, "Unknown" owes less to Jason Bourne than to Alfred Hitchcock as it follows an amnesiac's search for the truth, which takes him through a succession of wintry Berlin streets and alternately drab and luxe neighborhoods. Although Collet-Serra perks up the procedural with some brutal fights, efficient murders and one spectacular car chase (Harris didn't learn precision reverse-gear driving in botany class), for the most part "Unknown" keeps it low-key and consistently intriguing, all the more so when Harris enlists the help of a crafty ex-Stasi officer named Jurgen (Bruno Ganz).

The weakest link in "Unknown" - okay, other than the utter preposterousness of its entire premise - is Jones, who as a modern-day version of Hitch's ice queens can't hold her own with the likes of Kim Novak, Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint. Kruger fares much better as a Bosnian emigre who has a knack for magically appearing just when Harris needs her most.

It's no surprise when the detail-oriented Jurgen twigs to what's going on far earlier than Harris or even the audience does. The final twist, when it comes, is a nifty one. And it even comes with its own handy-dandy ticking time bomb. As long as filmgoers come to "Unknown" unencumbered by a need for plausibility, this handsome, well-paced production possesses its share of twisty, visceral pleasures. And through it all, Neeson evinces the same mix of rock-solid strength and soulful vulnerability that made him such a breakout star way back in the 1980s. Even with one or two more wrinkles and a tad less hair, the kid's still got it.

Contains some intense sequences of violence and action and brief sexual content.