The trajectory of Liam Neesonthe career of in the post-Taken the era was fascinating to watch. Neeson first made his way onto the public radar in the 90s thanks to his highly acclaimed role as Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielbergthe beloved masterpiece, Schindler’s list, and Neeson continued his remarkable turn with many noteworthy roles in arthouse projects by notable authors. However, by the middle of the 21st century, this rapid increase seemed to fall short. Neeson is now known as an action star and has appeared in many films of the genre that may seem to all merge into one. However, the 2011 action thriller, Unknownfollows a different path.
Neeson’s starring roles began to dwindle as he got older, and although he took part in big projects like New York Gangs and kingdom of paradise, it was always in minor parts. Some of Neeson’s best work in movies like Kinsey and Breakfast on Pluto has unfortunately been underestimated. And came Taken in 2008. There were low expectations for the revenge action thriller, but the surprise hit caught on and heralded the award-winning former actor as the action hero of a generation. Compared to other action stars of the day, Neeson’s gruff, grizzled outlook was a breath of fresh air that seemed to fill the void of what John Wayne, Clint Eastwoodand Harrison Ford did so in their later years. Neeson typically appears in at least one such action film each year, and he is frequently associated with the director. Jaume Collet-Serra. Collet-Serra’s work tends to embrace elements of deadpan camp with small-scale action, and he led Neeson in Non-stop, running all night, and The commuter.
However, Neeson and Collet-Serra began their string of successful collaborations with a film that now feels like a novelty. Unknown missing the big piece of end set Nonstop, eccentric villains of Run all nightor the “wink at the camera” type humor of The commuter. It was just as ridiculous as any other Neeson vehicle, but Unknown seemed more Hitchcockian with its ambiguous morals and frequent twists.
Neeson stars as Dr. Martin Harris, a biotechnology research professor who attends a summit in Berlin with his wife, Liz (January Jones). Harris is involved in a near-fatal car accident that puts him in a four-day coma, but when he wakes up, he doesn’t find his loving wife by his side. Liz pretends that her husband is a completely different man (Aidan Quinn); she has never seen Harris before and does not recognize him.
The “case of mistaken identity” storyline feels very Hitchcockian, and Neeson is the type of sensitive actor who can make family conflict scenes compelling in their own right, not just a precursor to a shooter series. ups. What is remarkable is not the premise itself, but what the film is not it reveal. Harris is not a secret agent with a Thick headed-style past, and he also doesn’t turn out to be a former military man who’s surprisingly good at kicking ass. He’s just a normal man victim of a conspiracy and someone who must use practical problem-solving techniques to uncover the truth.
Neeson’s later work became less original because, for the most part, you know what you’re going to get from Neeson’s character arc pretty early on. Unknown is different in that it actually embraces the dramatic consequences of the premise. Here is a character who was once successful and relatively happy, and an unexpected event makes him a stranger in his own body. Harris can’t trust anyone, especially himself, but he’s still heartbroken by the images of happy family vacations that now seem alien to him.
This is where Neeson’s dramatic experience really benefits the film, because what would be “filling” in a Jason Statham Where Mark Wahlberg thriller is in fact the central text of Unknown. Harris needs time to adjust to her own reality, and while the eventual twists ultimately move the film in a pulpier direction, they help form an actual character arc. Harris realizes he shouldn’t have settled for the man he once was, as he was involved in a wrongful assassination plot. He now seeks redemption for a task he has no memory of.
It’s also remarkable how many other features of the Neeson film are missing from Unknown. He works alongside a much younger accomplice, Gina (Diane Kruger), but she is not it end up becoming his love. Harris confronts the plotters in the climax of the end, and he gets his ass handed over. In the end, though he learned details about the covert criminal conspiracy’s secret impact on world politics, he’s not the one who single-handedly eliminates them. Its survival is its victory; now he must embark on the even more difficult task of returning to a normal life while burdened with this knowledge.
Neeson continues to score the aging veteran’s premise ‘one last mission’ (this year alone he’ll star in Black light and Memory) and Collet-Serra continues his rise as a successful filmmaker with Jungle Cruise and this summer Black Adam. A movie like Unknown, a mid-budget mystery for adult audiences, is the type of film that seems to disappear or drop onto a streaming service without notice. Neeson and Collet-Serra luckily have the power to get a movie like Unknown to an audience and, in retrospect, a hidden gem in both of their filmographies.
“Grandpa, are you a good guy?”
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