Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Liam Neeson in Taken 2: Starring Bridget Von Hammersmark and Betty Draper

Unknown, starring Liam Neeson, is a film you've seen before.
There’s a lot to like about Unknown, from the completely game performances by stars Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger to the taut, thrilling and actually quite possible screenplay, adapted by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell from a novel called Out of My Head by Didier van Cauwelaert. There is, in turn, a lot to dislike as well: the underdeveloped characters, the sometimes half-baked action sequences and the high number of twists without much real payoff.

Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a man who loses his memory after an accident in Berlin. When he recovers four days later, his wife (played about as robotically as possible by Mad Men star January Jones) has no memory of him, and he’s been replaced by another man claiming to be him. (Aidan Quinn, who doesn’t have a whole lot to do but does nail his standout scene of syncing his words with Neeson’s with aplomb, plays the man impersonating Martin.) Kruger plays Gina, the Bosnian cab driver whom Martin is convinced knows something about why he’s been replaced.

Bruno Ganz is a scene-stealer as a former spy Martin hires to help him. He seems to be the only actor in the film having any fun; while Neeson and Kruger are both plenty game to perform to their fullest, they treat this with the utmost seriousness of purpose. There’s really no fun to be had in their performances, forgoing any winks for audience love in favor of strict adherence to their characters.
Fun to be had or not, I wish the characters had been fleshed out more. They’re kind of dull, and they don’t do anything except evolve into more confusing but no less dull characters. Kruger’s character never really develops and, as it turns out, has absolutely no knowledge that is relevant to determining the plot. She is, in other words, an unnecessary character. And Neeson is playing his Taken character once again, requiring the audience to be impressed by how badass he is. That would be fine if we hadn’t seen it all before.

Jones’ character is particularly one-note, but she plays the character with such stiffness and lack of purpose that it’s impossible to read her. For a character like hers, you might say that’s the point, but I think she’s doing the right thing in the wrong way.

Despite the underdevelopment of characters, the plot is really well constructed for a throwaway thriller such as this. There are moments that don’t read completely honest – for example, the big conference that Martin keeps discussing throughout the film is never really discussed in full. We’re expected to react wildly to a twist involving who is the target of a particular action, but all that we wind up doing is scratching our heads and moving on because it’s just not completely comprehensible.
None of the issues with Unknown will be of any great detriment while watching the film. It’s pure popcorn enjoyment: a taut thriller with good dialogue and solid performances. It’s not as charming as a film like The Adjustment Bureau, but it’s got a great sense of tension and action that make it immensely watchable.

It’s not a masterpiece by any means, and the jokes that the film is essentially Taken 2: Starring Bridget von Hammersmark and Betty Draper are pretty accurate, but it’s a whole lot of fun and worth the price of (matinee) admission. B-


Robert said...

Your positive review, plus Diane Kruger, might actually convince me to see this film! Haha. Though I've still never seen "Taken"...

Kevin said...

"Positive" is a strong word, haha. In this drought of good films we're experiencing, it's worth it, but not really any other time!