UnknownIn the days when even James Bond is remodelled along the lines of Jason Bourne, it seems the formula of modern action thrillers has been defined. And inevitably the stylised, shaky camera shots and the search for a lost identity pioneered by Greengrass and Co. inspires, or is imitated by a host of inferior filmmakers who want a slice of the genre pie. And by plot synopsis alone, Jaume Collet-Serra’s film certainly is generic. However, the Catalan-American director previously responsible for interesting but generally unremarkable horror-fare (the “House of Wax” remake, as well as 2009’s “Orphan”), must be commended not only for keeping the reins on a largely European production without major Hollywood backing, but for developing an intriguing and engaging movie that can live beyond the pulling power of Liam Neeson. The film is based on the 2003 novel “Out of My Head” by Didier Van Cauwelaert.

While in Berlin for a biotechnology summit, Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) is involved in a traffic accident that leaves him in a coma for four days. On waking up, he learns that nobody recognises him and that he may be part of a very thorough set-up: His wife (January Jones) is with another man (Aidan Quinn) who claims to be Harris. Pursued by mysterious forces, it looks as if the powers that be will do anything to silence him. Stuck in the city without identification, Harris tries to find Taxi-driver Gina (Diane Kruger), who was at the wheel of his taxi for help. She in turn introduced him to ex-stasi agent and self-proclaimed investigator Ernst Jürgen (the venerable Bruno Ganz). Could the prominent guests at the summit (Mido Hamada and Sebastian Koch) have anything to do with it and, most importantly, can Harris right the pieces in time? Simply put, the film can be viewed as a concoction of the Bourne series with Harrison Ford vehicle “The Fugitive,” the influences are certainly clear. From the setting of post-Cold War Berlin, lending the images an appropriately sombre mood, to the design of the many car chases, a sense of familiarity abounds throughout, though never approaching set pieces with the ingenuity or adrenaline pounding activity of those set for the amnesiac CIA agent.

Liam Neeson is a very solid choice for the title role, continuously reaffirming his survival-hero status he’s been polishing since “Taken.” His Dr. Harris’ personal search for truth is the glue of the film and Neeson lends the role the necessary hard looks and concerned stares. The same cannot be said for all of the actors however. Diane Kruger does her best in a role with very little meat while the presentation of Bruno Ganz as socialist-fan spy is contrived in the extreme. With the arrival of Frank Langella, somewhere in the second third, the entire film takes a turn for the worse. The resolution is not necessarily foreseeable but disappointing nonetheless, the expectations of most audience members will not be met by the fact the truth isn’t half as exciting as it could have been. “Taken” floundered in a similar manner towards the end, the possibility of rounding off a decent premise has not been realised in either case, though the damaged exteriors of a Berlin landmark are suitably convincing. Overall, “Unknown” is certainly an entertaining view with great mood. The encroaching parallels between it and other, superior ventures in the genre may irritate anyone even little acquainted with action-thriller trends over the last decade.

Unknown OSTThe music for “Unknown” was composed by relative veteran John Ottman and newcomer Alexander Rudd. The pair approached this project with much the same, now generic sound utilised by John Powell on all three of his Bourne scores and beyond. It’s a hybrid of string ensemble and electronic elements, driving the score with percussive loops and other effect-like sounds. for added emotional impact, a piano and sparse woodwinds join in, fro cues such as the opening “Welcome to Berlin” and “Nice to Meet You,” both of which serve as a musical identity for the film as a whole. The action too is spread around the album, exploding in cues such as “Evil Car.” This action music however, is written without much direction and could very well be applied to almost any action or intrigue film. The score also lacks any clear thematic identity that could distinguish it from others, in particular that of the famous Bourne staccato motif. Very much like the film, this music is enjoyable (and certainly effective next to the pictures) though it offers nothing new and will feel worn-out and even tired to those who listened to “The Bourne Supremacy” and the following “Ultimatum.”

Fans of Liam Neeson will like “Unknown” for it concentrates some of the actor’s greatest talents. And while some parts of the film do sag a little, there’s not much can be said against the fact Collet-Serra can muster enough action and mystery (in a healthy balance as well) out of plot, actors and locations to maintain the interest of the audience throughout.



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