Recently, the barrage of kicks and punches in mainstream action and superhero films have an unusually Bristish accent. In one of the most anticipated prequels of the year, James McAvoy takes the mantle of Professor X from Patrick Stewart. Break-out star Andrew Garfield will suit up for the next Spider-man installment. Known more for his lavish Shakespeare adaptations, Kenneth Branagh lends his directorial hand to the movie version of Thor. But of the number of the Queen’s subjects out there, no one has been churning out action movies more than Liam Neeson. Well, he’s Irish but he’s more than British for romancing two of the most gorgeous leading ladies of Brit cinema history; his late wife Natasha Richardson and former flame Helen Mirren. The latter, by the way, played an automatic-wielding assassin in last year’s geriatric bullet-fest, RED. In his last three films, Neeson’s career has seen an upward trajectory in the action genre. First came The A-Team reboot then Taken and now comes Unknown. I am all for this kind British Invasion but here’s to hopingJudi Dench is unavailable if some moronic producers decide to make a Chronicles of Riddick sequel. You don’t want her IMDB profile tarnished with another co-starring project with Vin Diesel.
The premise is quite intriguing. Dr. Martin Harris and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) is attending a conference where a leading scientist will announce a new corn breed that he discovered. A Middle Eastern prince (I guess Saudi Arabia) is the special guest of the biotech congress. As the couple is about to settle in their hotel suite, Harris noticed that one of his luggage is missing. He quickly hailed a taxi to go back to the airport. Unfortunately, the cab careened and fell in a river. Good thing though that driver (Diane Kruger) managed to save his life. After a four-day coma, Harris left the hospital only to find out that another Martin Harris has replaced him. Worse, his wife seems to have forgotten him and their relationship.
Pretty much the usual retrieving one’s missing identity plot that most filmmakers try to pass up for a conspiracy thriller, Unknown rose and fell because of its limitations and implausible rationale. Neeson made it watchable and almost believable because he is Liam Neeson. In the hands of an actor of a lesser mettle, this would’ve been a disaster. His female co-stars were at least engaging.
I was busy figuring out the whole mess, Frank Langella burst in the screen as Dr. Martin Harris’ (Neeson) old friend and colleague. Got it! Langella can never play the man you can trust. He once tried to destroy Dave’s presidential tenure (Kevin Kline’s charming and sincere fictional commander-in-chief). Here is a consistent first-rate villain and I am sure he is up to no good. He did take on a real-life president but one named Richard Nixon. This doesn’t speak well for a movie if the audience figures out a film through observing stereotypes.
Unfavorable reviews aside, the film opened at number 1 beating the highly-anticipated I am Number Four. People has accepted that Neeson – a critically-acclaimed – actor is a believable action hero. He remains the saving grace of this muddled and misdirected movie. An all-too incredible plot notwithstanding, he elevated his character via a sincere and purposeful performance that only an actor of his caliber can do. If he can transform a clunker like this one then he is due for an Oscar. So are there scripts out there just like Schindler’s List? Mail it to Liam Neeson. Please.