Liam Neeson now clocks in at the grand old age of 58, and has seen a somewhat sudden shift late in his career to that of an action hero.
This is largely thanks to Taken. It’s a movie I love, and probably one of the most touching, achingly sad films I’ve ever seen. Neeson’s character can only conceptualise his love for his daughter through the medium of extreme violence. It's heart rending.
Especially for that guy who gets a broken bottle rammed through his chest.
Neeson’s dabbled in action before of course, most notably in Sam Raimi’s enjoyable Darkman, where he played an impossibly angry, super powered burns victim, hellbent on revenge. He’s also danced around the edges of the action genre in other comic book fare like Batman Begins, but it was as Taken’s unstoppable face puncher that he was propelled into the action hero big leagues.
Unknown seems to have been trailered as some sort of spiritual sequel to Taken. It appears to tick the same boxes. It has a generic one word title. In the posters, Neeson glares moodily, like he means business. And look! He has a gun! How many surly Europeans will he shoot with it this time?
However, the pre-release hype is somewhat misleading. Unknown probably has more in common with the Harrison Ford film, Frantic. In that film, Ford’s wife goes missing in Paris and, feeling lost in a foreign country, he enlists the help of a younger, slightly edgy chick to help find her.
Amnesia is... wait, I forget
In Unknown, Neeson’s character’s wife is also lost to him. She hasn’t gone missing though. She simply doesn’t know who he is anymore. He rolls up in Berlin with the missus, but after the taxi he’s riding plunges into a river, and he emerges from a coma, he finds another man has taken his place, whilst wifey stares at him like he’s a stranger.
Luckily, the taxi driver is a younger, slightly edgy chick (Diane Kruger), and he enlists her help to find out why his life appears to be a complete sham.
Stories of amnesia, and identity theft are great for building a claustrophobic atmosphere, ripe with paranoia. But the film never really convinces in this respect. The majority of the film is Neeson getting a bit exasperated, telling people that he’s Martin Harris, over and over again. Whilst they just look at him like he’s bonkers.
There never seems to be a great deal at stake, or a huge amount of danger, save for a quick car chase.
The twist, when it arrives, is quite neat, if pretty easy to guess. But it seems to take a long time to get there. Interest has waned by the third act, and not even some more belated action can heat things up. On the whole, it didn’t grip me in quite the way a good thriller should.
So, spiritual sequel to Taken? No, not really. But never mind. There’s a true sequel in the works, imaginatively titled Taken 2. Possibly Neeson’s character may have worked through his emotional problems, and absconded to a monastery for the quiet life. Let’s hope not, eh?