Liam Neeson is a believable, brilliant action hero for one reason above all others; he’s an “everyman.” What I mean by “everyman” for anyone that isn’t familiar with the term, is that he is a hero who could be anyone. He doesn’t have a huge advantage over anyone else or characteristics that make him stand-out from your average man. He hasn’t got a huge build like Arnie and Sly or have specific skills which have made him famous, like the martial arts of Segal or Van Damme. Liam Neeson is an appealing action hero because he could be you!
That was part of what made Taken such a good film. You were really rooting for Neeson because the odds were really stacked against him. It wasn’t like he was armed with a huge machine gun or needed multiple enemies to make his struggle believable. You really wanted him to find his daughter and because he was so “normal” (apart from his specific set of skill), you were engaged and enthusiastic about his “mission.”
Taken is much more of an action film than Unknown is but the comparison is definitely there. Liam Neeson plays the same type of character (Dr. Martin Harris), this time without any special training, and the action is as gritty and realistic as Taken was too. In fact, for the first half of the film, the story is an improvement on Taken. Liam Neeson’s character is in a car accident during a trip to Germany, wakes up and is then shunned by his wife who doesn’t seem to recognise him. When he then tells her who he is, another man shows up claiming he’s actually Dr. Martin Harris. It’s a scary, intriguing and very engaging premise.
We then track Neeson as he tries to unravel the mystery and work out whether he is crazy, being deceived or whether something much more sinister is going on. It peaks your interest in the same way Taken did because you can’t really see any way out of this predicament. The film does a great job of heavily stacking the odds against Neeson’s character.
Helping him unravel the mystery is a great cast of supporting actors too. January Jones is suitably creepy as the wife that doesn’t recognise him, Diane Kruger shows she can do action too, playing the only person that believes him and most impressively of all is Bruno Ganz as the spy who vows to help Neeson discover the truth. If you haven’t seen Ganz play Hitler in Downfall, you are missing out on one of the most impressive performances ever.
It’s a shame that Unknown struggles towards the end. The issue it finds itself in is that it has set up a fantastic mystery that really amps up the tension, but it means the payoff and the answer to the whole film has to be decent too. Although it’s a clever twist and not something I think anyone would really guess or discover prematurely, it then takes the film into a much more generic, action movie direction that doesn’t do the bulk of the film any justice.
It would probably have been better if they had held off with the twist ending until much later in the film and built a climax around that, rather than forcing the film towards a “forced,” action-packed finale. It’s only a small criticism though and doesn’t stop Unknown being a brilliant film that is well worth a watch.
Overall, Unknown is a fantastic, tense thriller. Liam Neeson continues to prove that he can do action films and that you get action that is both realistic and gritty. Although the ending struggles to do the rest of the film justice, it does contain an intelligent twist. I just hope Taken 2 can live up to the high standards of the first installment and Unknown.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)