Movie Review: Unknown (2011)

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones), are on a plane to Berlin, where he is to hold a presentation at a bio-technology summit funded by Prince Shada (Mido Hamada), a tree-hugging ruler that has attracted the interest of extremists in his country. Upon landing in a very snowy Germany, the duo hails a taxi — nothing out of the ordinary — unless you call the absent-minded doctor forgetting his suitcase unordinary. They soon arrive at the Hotel Adlon, but there is a mix up with rooms — Liz argues with the foreman, Martin remembering the lost luggage jumps into another cab to retrieve it. En route, his phone loses reception (sorry Liz) and while taking another route to avoid traffic, a piece of cargo detaches from a delivery truck. Gina (Diane Kruger), the driver (whom Martin reconnects with later-on), swerves out of the way of the debris only to have the vehicle nosedive directly into the freezing water below. Harris is knocked unconscious but is saved by a couple of paramedics who decide it’s a smart idea to defibrillate someone who has just been drawn out of a river (surely that breaks some sort of safety guideline).

Four days later, Martin wakes up in the hospital only to find out that he’s been in a coma since the accident. What’s more is that they couldn’t find any identification on him, and the poor sap can’t remember anything other than being at an airport and getting into a taxi with his wife. His only possessions include a watch with a peculiar date etched on the back, a book with numbers scribbled on it, and a fistful of cash. However, his memory is quickly jogged and he recalls being invited to the luxury hotel to give a speech. Despite his doctor (Karl Markovics) warning him that “there are no rules for severe trauma of this kind,” Harris packs up and leaves for the Adlon.

That’s a lot to digest but it all comes to handy for what’s about to come next in Jaume Collet-Serra’s Unknown. When Harris spots Elizabeth at the gala, she claims not to know him and when confronted with the fact that he is her husband, she brings out another man (played by Aidan Quinn), who remarks that he is, in fact, Martin Harris. Having his sanity challenged, Liam’s character decides to prove his identity, which leads him down a dark and twisted conspiracy that may or may not be just a fabrication caused by Harris’ injuries.

To enjoy Unknown for what it is — a schlocky end-of-the-Winter action flick — one must suspend his or her own belief. Nobody claimed that it was not meant to be plausible nor was it expected to be critically acclaimed. Of course, this means that there could have been a lot more done with the overall premise, but Serra delivers on what was advertised: An unpredictable thriller that utilizes Neeson’s trademark approach to the distraught hero. And besides, sometimes it’s fun to think outside the realm of realism in order to piece together a puzzle.

And Neeson does well in making the film satisfying. Lending a performance akin to his work in Pierre Morel’s Taken (which many audience members compared the film to afterwards), the actor makes Harris human and easy to root for, even if he is rather forgettable in the long-run. In addition, Liam plays nice with Kruger, whose character turns out to be an unlikely sidekick.

The idea of a man’s personal identity being determined by how society views him, also adds intrigue to the film’s ambitious plot. In fact, for Harris, it has a polarizing effect — though to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that.

But, needless to say, Unknown isn’t perfect. The screenplay, which was written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, an adaptation of the Didier Van Cauwelart novel Out of My Head is amateurish at times, with dialogue that’s contrived and bogus. One example being the aforementioned confrontation scene: With a mix of poor acting by Jones and awful scripting, the scene, made to be tense, becomes laughable.

Flavio Martà­nez Labiano’s cinematography does make up for it, and Unknown is a wonderfully shot film, with spot-on locations (Serra makes especially good use of the Aldo Hotel). And although the film’s plot doesn’t show much restraint, Labiano does, making the film less in-your-face than it could have been.

Regardless, Jaume Collet-Serra’s follow-up to Orphan is decent and enjoyable and merits a matinee priced viewing, however it’s a shame that the director can’t seem to stride past being “okay” and remains stationary right in the middle of the road.

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
3 Star Rating: Average


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