Entertainment

Friday 9 December 2016

Movies: Unknown ***

(15A, GENERAL RELEASE)

Paul Whitington

Published 04/03/2011 | 05:00

At the start of Jaume Collet-Serra's Unknown, a taxi swishes Liam Neeson and January Jones from Berlin airport to a ritzy hotel in such a slick and stylish manner that you're led to expect a sombre, weighty drama.

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But don't be fooled, because for all its flash production values, at heart Unknown is a daft and trashy B-movie that entertains at least as much as it tests your credulity. A kind of cross between Neeson's recent hit Taken and Roman Polanski's Frantic, Unknown also evokes countless film noir classics in which the hero is either mistaken for someone else or gets a crack on the head and wakes up bewildered.

Neeson is Dr Martin Harris, an eminent American biologist who arrives in Berlin for a conference with his glamorous young wife Liz (Jones). While she's checking into their hotel he realises one of their bags has been left at the airport and flags down another taxi to go back out and get it. It's driven by another glamorous blonde called Gina (Diane Kruger), but while swerving to avoid an accident in front of them her taxi careers off a bridge and into deep water. Gina saves Harris and then runs away, and when he wakes up four days later he has trouble remembering his name.

When he's released from hospital he returns to the hotel to find Liz and tell her he's alright. But Liz tells Martin that she's never seen him before in her life, and is now swanning around in the company of another man (Aidan Quinn) who claims to be Dr Harris. Devastated and confused, he first doubts his own sanity, but when a pair of men begin following him around Berlin and trying to kill him, he realises there's something funny afoot. He tracks down Gina, and with her help he finds a former Stazi spy called Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz) who's prepared to believe Martin's story -- the question is, how can he prove it?

There are plenty of twists and turns in Unknown, few of them credible. But asking a film like this to be believable is like asking the Marx brothers to calm down and speak slowly please. The nonsense is the whole point of it, and Mr Collet-Serra embraces it with commendable enthusiasm.

There are some great car chases, a few decent rows, and Mr Neeson remains a compelling tough guy even if he is nearly 60. A fine supporting cast includes Frank Langella, Karl Markovics and Sebastian Koch, and you'll enjoy it all hugely provided you don't analyse a single second.

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