x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Unknown

Unknown, another identity crisis thriller, has a lot going for it, but the second half of the movie lets it down despite Liam Neeson's outstanding performance.

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones and Aidan Quinn 
***

Recently, Hollywood seems to have developed something of a fascination with identity crises of all descriptions.

It's ranged from actresses "finding themselves" in exotic locales, a làEat Pray Love, to the classic inconvenient case of amnesia, most famously seen in the Bourne franchise.

Unknown sees the acclaimed botanist Dr Martin Harris (Neeson), attending what was supposed to be another European conference on biotechnology.

He lands in snowy Berlin with his wife Liz (Jones), and they arrive in their hotel, where the conference is held, and attempt to check in.

However Martin realises he has left his briefcase in the airport. He hails a cab driven by the illegal immigrant Gina (Kruger).

Events take a dramatic turn when a poorly secured refrigerator falls from a lorry and into oncoming traffic. In an attempt to dodge the oncoming debris, the cab rams into a boulder and falls into the river.

Martin survives the ordeal but wakes up from a four-day coma with a patchy memory.

Without identification, he returns to the hotel to find his wife does not recognise him. His identity - including his name, backstory and career - has been taken up by a similar-looking academic (Quinn).

One thing to understand about Unknown is that it is no Memento. It acts as a rather pleasant diversion as opposed to the head-scratching whodunnit that modern classic presented.

It also calls to mind the B movies of the 1950s; the kind of film shown before the main attraction, that shamelessly borrows elements of bigger blockbusters.

From the frosty European locations to the cast of shadowy characters, including devious doctors, spooks and suspicious hotel staff, Unknown clearly speaks the same stylistic language as the Bourne films.

But Unknown manages to engage the audience thanks to a script which, while it sometimes stretches credulity to breaking point, is both well calculated and surprisingly old fashioned.

There are even shades of Hitchcock-like tension to go with the Bournesque violence and slick car chases.

The film's better first half is driven by the engrossing premise and Martin's paranoia.

We are engaged as Martin attempts to piece together his unravelled life and in some instances we genuinely believe that everyone, from the hotel lobby staff to the nurses, are somehow in on the scam. However once Martin understands the true nature of his predicament the film, unfortunately, changes gear from genuine suspense to a predictable thriller.

This a shame, as it scuppers all the good work of the cast, particularly Neeson.

The Irishman has to be one of Hollywood's most underrated and consistent actors, and he has the ability to draw empathy from morally complex situations.

From his first bewildered glance after waking up from the coma, he has the audience in his hands.

But once the film moves away from his paranoia and enters spy-mode, with an unconvincing subplot delving into the plight of Europe's illegal immigrants, it becomes clunky at best.

Kruger delivers a decent performance as Martin's sidekick Gina, however her backstory as an illegal migrant trying to get her papers seems forced.

Despite its shortcomings, Unknown was a box-office hit in the US. This is not surprising because while it might not be the smartest thriller on the block, it is also not a bad way to spend a few hours of your time.