The star of Taken and The A-Team jumps back into action with brute force! Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, who awakens after a car accident in Berlin to discover that his wife (January Jones) suddenly doesn’t recognize him and another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity. Ignored by disbelieving authorities and hunted by mysterious assassins, he finds himself alone, tired and on the run. Aided by an unlikely ally (Diane Kruger), Harris plunges into a deadly mystery forcing him to question his sanity, his identity and just how far he’s willing to go to uncover the truth.
The surprise hit Taken, from 2008, contained a number of red meat pleasures, but chief among them was Liam Neeson's reinvention as an action hero, turning his trademark wounded brusqueness and gentle-giant physique towards new, head-clunking avenues. Despite an ad campaign that makes it appear to be a direct action-packed continuation of that earlier film, Unknown proves to be a somewhat different creature--a sleek mystery that occasionally gives in to temptation and lets its hulking star call down the righteous thunder. Based on a novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert, the story follows a mild-mannered botanist in Berlin with his wife (Mad Men's January Jones) for a mysterious scientific conference. After a freak car accident, he wakes up in the hospital with scrambled memories, missing identification, and--most ominously--someone else claiming to be him. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, previously responsible for the admirably berserko Orphan, handles the early paranoiac cloak-and-dagger passages with aplomb (and delivers one quick beaut of a car chase), but proves less sure-footed when the story drifts towards more conventional Bourne-style punch-ups. Thankfully, Neeson does a fine job keeping things grounded whenever the narrative starts to wander, with able support from Diane Kruger as a cab driver unwillingly along for the ride. There's the germ of a genuinely intriguing, thoughtful thriller inside Unknown--particularly during a superbly minimalist scene between supporting cast members Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz--but it mostly seems content to stay within the realm of a high-pedigreed, reasonably taut action film. Which isn't all that bad of a thing, really. --Andrew Wright