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Genre Thriller

According to a 2008 IOL article, identity theft could be costing South African individuals and firms more than R1 billion a year. Scam artists have even begun to register assumed identities as deceased in order to make a claim on their life insurance or estates. That's what makes Unknown so fascinating and possible as Dr. Martin Harris finds out what it's like to slip off the grid.

Imagine waking up after a car accident to find that your life has been upended without a trace of your former life. This is the case of Dr. Harris (Neeson), a man facing a similar situation after waking up from a coma. Harris falls into a state of bewilderment as paranoia begins to pick at his mind after an accident makes him spectator to a life he once owned. Just like The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, this doctor goes on the run from authorities in a classic Hitchcockian man-on-the-run thriller.

Moving between the police, hospital staff and an undercover agency... Harris must find a way to reunite with his distant wife and recover his real identity. Liam Neeson surprised everyone with action-thriller Taken as a ex-special forces father whose daughter gets kidnapped, later starring in The A-Team remake as Hannibal Smith. He's demonstrated that he's still got it and in many ways, Unknown is a derivative of his role in Taken mixed with the plight of Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.

Jaume Collet-Serra directed House of Wax and Orphan, showing a curiosity for darker horror-thrillers. Unknown may not be a horror, but the snowy, murky and haunting city of Berlin gives the thriller a cold atmosphere and the perfect conditions for a mystery. While Unknown immediately conjures up flashbacks of Taken with a Luc Besson edge and quick pacing, it seems to go a little deeper as Dr. Harris transports the audience on a journey of self-discovery as all the pieces of the puzzle are reassembled.

Unknown varies between intense drama and riveting action set pieces as our hero recruits the help of his taxi driver as he embarks on a mission to reclaim his identity. The taxi interplay and urban car chase scenes have parallels with Besson's affinity for car chases and taxis. Unknown may not be as cuttingly violent as Taken, but maintains stress levels as our dazed and confused hero escapes one tense situation only to land in another.

Neeson seemed more determined in Taken like it was personal. In Unknown, he carries a vacant glare... possibly because his character feels numbed, void of identity, like a man suffering from amnesia. Instead of being a lone wolf, he's aided by Diane Kruger, Bruno Ganz and January Jones. Kruger (National Treasure) shows she can roll with the punches as his accomplice, Gina, the taxi driver. Ganz (Hitler in Downfall) is almost unrecognisable, delivering a cold, experienced supporting role and January Jones (Mad Men) softens the sharp tension as a gorgeous, enigmatic counterpart to Neeson as Elizabeth Harris.

Unknown lags a little in places, but the mystery sustains us long enough to make the film compelling, exciting and action-packed. It's a straight-forward actioner with a meaty premise and a solid cast. Unfortunately, this distancing forces it to skate over the characters, leaving the audience slightly alienated by the onslaught of anonymity and disconnectedness. Not feeling for the lead character displaces viewers making them feel like they're playing witness at an arm's length, cut adrift.

If the script was able to create more of a bond between audience and Dr. Harris, the film would have been right up there with its influential peers in Taken and The Fugitive. Instead, it makes its mark with relentless action, quick pacing and a classic Hitchcockian theme in a suspenseful man-on-the-run thriller with one big difference... the identity isn't mistaken, it's missing.

The bottom line: Electric


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