I’m just going to say what everyone is probably thinking, Unknown looks like the indirect sequel to Taken. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing on paper, it is kind of unnecessary given that a Taken sequel is currently in development. While Liam Neeson used to be the go to actor to portray a mentor or father figure that would die early on in whatever film he was a part of (Star Wars: Episode I, Gangs of New York, Kingdom of Heaven, Batman Begins, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, just to name a few), Taken seemed to break that mold. But now it seems like Neeson is drawn to roles similar to the one he had in Taken since the film was such a surprise success. At the end of the day, however, Unknown is definitely its own film with obvious similarities to Taken.
Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) awakes in the hospital groggy and confused with a slight case of memory loss. After being informed he was in a car accident, he also realizes he’s been in a coma for four days and there’s no sign of his wife, Liz (Jones). Once returning to his hotel and finding his wife, his life is turned upside down. His wife doesn’t recognize him and is with another man (Quinn) who’s referring to himself as Dr. Martin Harris. He ignores the obvious explanation of mistaken identity after a mysterious man kills his nurse and tries to do the same to him. Constantly on the run without any specific destination, Martin will stop at nothing to get the truth and will do anything it takes to regain his sanity.
The biggest difference between Taken and Unknown is that element of mystery in Unknown. For the first three quarters of the film, you’re trying to figure out who the real Dr. Martin Harris really is. And when it’s finally revealed, it’s actually a surprisingly decent twist. Taken also had much more action than Unknown mostly in part to Liam Neeson completely owning anyone that stood in his way of finding his daughter. While Unknown has its exciting moments, it’s more thrilling than anything. It’s all mostly car chases and Martin running away from people trying to kill him. While there is a scuffle or two involving Neeson beforehand, his only real fight similar to anything in Taken is the one in the finale (the “I didn’t forget everything,” scene). While this may sound disappointing, it’s really not and gives Unknown a few more distinguishing features to seem less like a doppelganger of a film you’ve already seen.
The cast is pretty strong all around. Liam Neeson doesn’t disappoint and is just as strong as he was in Taken. Diane Kruger manages to outshine January Jones, but that’s mostly due to Kruger having more screen time and doing more besides saying she doesn’t know her husband. Frank Langella is worth talking about though. Ever since Frost/Nixon, Langella seems to have stuck to smaller roles (where he also usually winds up dying). It’s just a shame since Langella usually steals scenes in whatever film he’s a part of and you generally want his character to be around longer than he is. On the bright side though, at least he doesn’t take it upon himself to choose characters that you wouldn’t want around at all.
Unknown isn’t what it could it have been though. Despite its flaws, it was actually incredibly entertaining and extremely exciting up until the last fifteen minutes or so. Then it’s like they decided to throw logic out the window. These are some very heavy spoilers that lie ahead, so if you don’t want the entire film spoiled I suggest you stop reading here. The original twist is fairly original; Martin is actually an assassin that was sent to Berlin on a mission, hit his head in the car crash, and wound up believing he was the fake identity he took on for the job. That’s fine, but when he decides to grow a conscience and save the day is when it seems kinda hokey. Considering the payoff for the whole thing is fast growing corn, the film winds up coming off like a bad joke rather than an exhilarating two hours. Also, it can’t really be that easy to obtain passports, can it?
Unknown starts off as a pretty intense thriller with teeth grinding car chases and knucklebiting action sequences across rooftops and parking lots, but all of the good things Unknown has going for it are thrown away during its final minutes. Instead we’re going to give a bleeding heart to a guy who originally started as a villain and end the world’s hunger problems in a two minute video montage. Unknown may look like an action packed film you’ve seen before, but it actually isn’t anywhere near as good as Taken is. If you liked Taken, Unknown is still worth giving a shot. Just don’t be surprised if you walk away disappointed.