by Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Jaume Collet-Serra
STARS Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger
I don't mind that Unknown, which builds on Liam Neeson's newly minted status as a tortured action hero, is utterly ridiculous. Why? Because within the constraints of its absurdity, it always manages to play fair with the audience.
This is a radical departure from many contemporary thrillers in which the filmmakers are so focused on the twist ending that they barrel toward that destination with little rhyme or reason. The result is invariably a storyline riddled with plotholes and saddled with, let's face it, a twist that was pretty easy to spot in the first place. But Unknown isn't like that.
It starts with Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife (January Jones) arriving in Berlin to attend a conference. A subsequent accident while riding in a taxi cab leaves him with a moderate case of amnesia, able to recall his identity but not the details surrounding the accident and utterly unable to explain why his wife insists that another man (Aidan Quinn) is the real Martin Harris. Alone in a foreign land, Martin tries to piece the mystery together with the help of the cab driver (Diane Kruger), whose illegal-immigrant status makes her reluctant to get involved, and an elderly private detective (cinema treasure Bruno Ganz), who's hoping to recapture a smidgen of the excitement he enjoyed during his time as a member of the Stasi.
Neeson is as compelling here as he was in his previous Euro-action yarn Taken, and the picture even makes some modest political jabs by presenting Kruger's illegal immigrant as a heroine who's smart, resourceful and tough, an asset to the population of any country. Mostly, though, the film keeps its focus on its central mystery, and when everything is finally explained, we can quietly smile at its outlandishness while simultaneously applauding it for not insulting our intelligence.