Shortly after Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) arrive in Berlin, Martin realizes his briefcase was left at the airport. During the cab ride to retrieve it, his taxi is involved in an accident that leaves him in a coma. When he wakes up three days later, he finds that his wife doesn't know who he is and he had been replaced by another man (Aidan Quinn) claiming to be him. He begins to think he's gone mad until he is nearly captured and killed. With the assistance of the taxi driver Gina (Diane Kruger), he begins to piece his memory back together and tugging at a thread of a vast conspiracy.
"Unknown" has been unfairly branded as "Taken 2" when in reality the two are hardly similar beyond their star and European setting. Don't get me wrong, I quite like "Taken." I consider it to be one of the more enjoyable film experiences of 2009, a guilty pleasure if you will. But I have to be honest, it's an absurd movie. Actually, "absurd" might be putting it lightly. "Taken" is like "24" on steroids and that is saying something because as much as I love Jack Bauer (favorite TV character from an hour long drama/action ever), he is nothing if not absurd.
"Unknown", on the other hand, is a much more reasonable action-thriller, comparatively speaking. The film does an excellent job of keeping you guessing and refusing to allow you to get comfortable with one idea or another. You know Harris isn't insane because the film opens with him and his wife together but you start to wonder if perhaps he created all of that in his mind. When it becomes apparent that he really isn't nuts, you start working to piece together how anyone could pull a conspiracy of this magnitude off such a short period of time. And when the gears of the final twists and turns begin to whirl into motion, you're not sure exactly what's going to happen but you know it's going to be big. Throughout all of this, Harris serves as the voice of the audience. He wonders aloud throughout his searching and asks the questions that I myself was asking while sitting in my easy chair. As confused as we might be watching the mess unfold, it's no more confused than Harris is himself and it is this element that allows it to truly excel.
The actors that surround Neeson all range from marginally mediocre to half way decent and that at times can create an issue or two. In particular, Jones comes off as hollow and one note, just like everything else she's ever been in. But "Unknown" starts and ends with Neeson which is a pretty darn good bedrock on which to build a film's foundation. He's always been an excellent actor but in the last few years it seems that he's figured out how to make himself more approachable and therefore more enjoyable to watch. He plays characters that you root for no matter what and that's an underrated talent in Hollywood. He makes bad films pretty good and pretty good films very good. "Unknown" is the latter; the concept and subsequent twists would make a solid film regardless but Neeson sells his part wonderfully and pushes the movie to new heights.