Unknown is being marketed wrong, which will likely upset viewers who go in this weekend expecting Taken 2 (or if you’re like me and prefer to call that 2009 action fest by it’s proper name, Don’t F*ck With Liam Neeson 2.) There’s action in it, sure, but Liam Neeson’s Martin Harris isn’t a real instigator of the majority of it, nor does he finish most of his targets off in awesome ways like he did in Taken. In some ways this is good as it gives Unknown it’s own little leg to stand-on. The result is a serviceable, well-made thriller that plays its double cross card too many times toward the end.
Unknown isn’t a movie that’s completely repulsive, unless you loathe January Jones’ acting ability. Being the seasoned actor that he is, Liam Neeson can instantly make a film better than it has any right to be (see; Clash of the Titans remake and even Episode I.) I appreciate that he’s not playing a Bryan Mills clone and more of an every man, but there was part of me that kept thinking, “when do I get to see someone’s head get slammed into a kitchen counter?” Neeson gives a depth to Dr. Harris that’s not often seen in these run-of-the-mill pictures. It’s tough to give praise to director Jaume Collet-Serra for Neeson’s performance here when you consider the calibre of actor he’s working with.
Where Mr. Collet-Serra does deserve praise is for getting some fairly strong performances from his supporters, sans Ms. Jones. True, Frank Langella knows how to chew up the screen as he does perfectly with Rodney Cole, but it’s the actors like Aidan Quinn and Sebastian Koch who come off much better than they deserve to. The real gem of these cats is Bruno Ganz who is the film’s Mr. Universe.
Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Labiano do construct some nice looking shots and do a more-than-adequate job of creating a solid atmosphere and tension. The few faults I can find in here involve the hyper-quick editing during the action sequences (particularly the fights) that make those feel disjointed and jerky. Granted, the Bourne series did this and make no mistake, this film borrows heavily from that perfect trilogy. Yet, Paul Greengrass was someone who knew how to use shaky-cam effectively for the fighting in those films. Here, I would have preferred to get geography for the fights rather than cut away every six seconds a punch is thrown. The action sequences on the whole also feel a little dragged out, reaching their punch long after they’ve overstayed their welcome.
The same could be said of the plot in general. It’s admirable that screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell would prefer to develop their story and allow it to move along. For the most part they do, but unfortunately by the time we as an audience are ready to move on, the movie is still going on with a scene that should have ended a page and six-eights ago. This is true of the reveal of who or what is going on, which unfortunately comes ten minutes too late. When you’re ready for the film to end, it reminds you there’s still twenty minutes left to go.
And yet, I still wanted to watch those twenty minutes, even if the film had overstayed its welcome. While far from perfect, Unknown doesn’t have a lot to hate about it. I’d be lying if I said I left the theatre satisfied completely, but it’d also be untrue to say I left completely angered by what was on the screen. Instead, I found my happy medium to be a decent way to waste time, even if it brings nothing too new to the table. But then again, there’s always an excuse to Liam Neeson walking around being a badass even if you don’t have to press B the entire film. Unknown is a tout way to spend an afternoon if you need your action fix for something new, warts and all.