Identity Crisis

Unknown ★★
(USA/Germany, 113 min.)
Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra; Writ: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Bruno Ganz, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella.
It may have been the chattiness of the Cheap Tuesday crowd and their incessant need to whip out mobile devices during the film, but Unknown offers little to recommend. This low-octane identity thriller is nearly as brain dead as my neighbouring moviegoers who constantly had to confer in order to follow the connect-the-dots plot. (Although they were nowhere near as bad as the couple who asked one another if 2012 was based on a true story!) The dull simplicity of Unknown seems all the more pitiful through its familiarity – it seems like a desperate attempt to cash in on the success of several recent hits.

The formulaicness of Unknown comes as a surprise since the film gets off to a quick start. Within five minutes, the film introduces Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his lovely wife Betty Draper, I mean Liz, (January Jones) as they arrive in Berlin for a conference on biotechnology. Martin forgets his important briefcase at the airport, and thus abandons Liz at the hotel in order to retrieve it. En route to the airport, Martin’s cab goes off a bridge. Four days later, he wakes up at the hospital with sparse recollections of the event and no documentation to prove his identity. 

Worried that Liz might be worried, Martin flees the hospital and makes his way back to the hotel (the film doesn't have the most progressive view of gender). After altercations with the front desk and hotel security, Martin spots Liz and asserts that his wife can confirm his identity. Liz, however, claims she has never met Martin before and introduces him to her husband, Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn). The hotel staff quickly ejects Martin from the hotel, and he finds himself stumbling around Berlin while trying to assemble enough clues to make sense of the absurd situation. His detective work links him up with a retired Stasi investigator (Bruno Ganz) and with Gina (Diane Kruger), the driver of the cab that was involved in the crash.
As the trio combs through Martin’s life, some helpful hints gradually appear thanks to a few convenient coincidences, as well as some moments where the characters sit and talk to themselves aloud. As Unknown progresses forward through the rediscovery of Martin’s identity, it becomes increasingly convoluted. The hokey script isn’t rendered much service through Neeson’s equally comatose performance, either – Martin Harris appears to be yet another entry in a string of characters to whom the actor has been attracted only by a large paycheck – it would be nice to see Neeson leave the bargain bin and return to the dramatic roles in which he excels. Likewise, the film presents an impressive roster of supporting players, yet the film affords them little to do. Diane Kruger gets a few decent scenes as Neeson’s aid, but even her Bosnian migrant character is nowhere near as juicy a role as Briget von Hammersmarck from Inglourious Basterds. The material seems beneath the star power of the film.

Neeson’s miscasting also hints at some of the generic unevenness of Unknown: it offers little in terms of either action or drama. The film does throw in some unexpected twists towards the end, as well as a well-choreographed car chase here and there, which save it from utter turkeydom. Unfortunately, all the finer points of Unknown are simply lesser variations of Salt and the Jason Bourne films.  Too bad that the crew behind the cameras of Unknown did not get a brainwave from these superior models, and instead, opted to let their movie flat-line on the bigscreen.