The key to a great mystery is the lead in, the ultimate catch and macguffin that will bring us in to the cusp of a surprise. “Unknown” has the surprise, there’s no doubting that, it’s jut the problem that the lead in provides that makes it an entirely mediocre piece of thriller that’s almost about a nonsensical as you can imagine. The writers literally write themselves in to conundrums throughout the movie as plot points go unexplained, only for them to completely undermine their previous direction, and you can sense them almost trying not to destroy the narrative from minute one.
Liam Neeson returns to the action genre in what is a ludicrous and far-fetched thriller about waking up to nothing. Almost like a “Twilight Zone” episode, Neeson plays a man named Martin Harris, a biochemical engineer set to give a seminar in Russia for an important discovery in his field of study. But when he leaves behind an important brief case at the airport, his rush to find his memento leads him in to a horrific car crash. Abandoned by the taxi driver and left in a foreign land he’s unfamiliar with, “Unknown” veers in to Hitchcockian territory when Martin discovers his wife has no familiarity with him, and that another man has taken his place.
Left cold and alone, he has to prove he’s Martin Harris or wonder if he’s lost his mind. Jaume Collete Serra directs with such competence that he prevents the film from becoming another “Salt,” and instead works toward the surprise ending as best as he can. We’ve seen how he can deliver the surprise punch in films like “Orphan,” now he works outside the genre and the delivery of the surprise is quite powerful, even though most of the lead-in is dreadfully boring and almost runs in to nothing but dead ends where as it has to restart itself and its narrative over and over again introducing new characters and new situations.
Eventually it feels like Serra is just working for the ending and the long in the tooth premise feels forced upon audiences with twists that are questionable and turns that are about as flat as a deflated rubber ball. In fact the ending seems so important that audiences will feel tempted to fast forward to the ending to see what the rub is before investing further time in to the characters or situations. In fact I was tempted to go right to the finale to see what I’m devoting almost two hours to and while pleased, I found the time spent not so proportionate to the powerful delivery, in the end.