Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down


15 April 2012 by Nicholas in TV

Unknown, starring Liam Neeson, initially appears thematically similar to Taken and was probably released as an attempt to target the same audience. It’s a subtler film that has more in the way of plot, but arguably suffers from some of the same problems and has far less action in order to carry it along.

Neeson plays a man who arrives in Berlin to attend a conference on biotechnology but, almost immediately upon arrival, loses his briefcase and is involved in a car accident which leaves him traumatised and possibly amnesiac. Upon trying to get back on schedule he finds another man claiming to be him and with his wife.

Initially our sympathies are with Neeson’s character, as he comes to doubt himself and his own memory. Because of how the film has progressed we never really doubt he is who he says he is and any lingering doubt that he has as to whether he is or not is soon vanquished by the fact someone seems determined to kill him so that he can continue to be replaced.

Neeson soon allies himself with the woman that was driving the taxi he was in when he suffered his debilitating accident and an ex stasi operative who promises to help him uncover the truth about himself as well as help him get out of the situation that he is in. The stasi character has some of the best lines in the film, some of which actually foreshadow the eventual climax and twist in the story.

The problem the film suffers is that it isn’t really exciting enough and the psychological impact and issues of finding yourself replaced in your own life by someone who seems to have an even better grasp of it than you do yourself is never really fully explored. We’re left with some limp chases lacking in tension and no doubt as to Neeson’s survival.

As the twists start to come, some of them are rather obvious and telegraphed. The main plot twist is surprising, but arguably only because it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. It requires a large amount of exposition on the part of the ex stasi character to explain it and requires Neeson’s character to act solely to drive and react to the plot. The ending has one of those tacked on feelings and characters act to facilitate events through lapses and strange jumps of logic.

There are other problems in the film, too. Although it plays on its German setting, there is a lot of logic that is taken from American films in American locales. I know some of the supposed conventions and situations are inaccurate. There are probably many more. There is a slight laziness pervading the film, from assumptions to logic and characterisation. It’s well made, but by no means particularly good.