Biotech scientist Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin for an international conference with his wife Lisa (January Jones) but as they check in to their plush hotel, he realises he has left his all important briefcase on the baggage trolley at the kerb. Hailing a cab in desperation to retrieve it, he is almost killed in an accident, which leaves him in a come for four days. When he comes round, he finds that another man (Aidan Quinn) has taken on his identity and that no one, (not even his wife), believes who he is. With the help of the fated taxi driver, a young migrant woman, Gina (Diane Kruger), he sets out to prove who he is. He encounters a web of deceit.
Review by Louise Keller:
A big budget thriller with pedigree, Unknown has so much going for it, yet somehow ends up a little less satisfying than its elements suggest. To begin with, there is the film's greatest asset in Liam Neeson, who in my little black book of fantasies is neck and neck with Jeremy Irons as the thinking woman's sex-symbol. Here Neeson is vulnerable with amnesia as well as forgotten by his beautiful wife (January Jones) as he becomes the target of vicious thugs in snowy Berlin, amid large scale mystery, spectacular car chases and psychological intrigue. But even Neeson, aided by the fabulous Diane Kruger, the superb Bruno Ganz and others including Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch and Aiden Quinn cannot overcome its script shortfall which means that while it's a good thriller, it's not a great one.
The film begins in true tangible fashion when Neeson's Dr Martin Harris, a speaker at the upcoming biotechnology summit, lands in Berlin, his wife by his side. A missing briefcase, a freak accident and a fortuitous rescue by Gina, an illegal immigrant taxi-driver (Kruger) get the premise underway. Things go from bad to worse for poor Martin when his wife says she doesn't know him and seems quite happy, dressed up to the nines with a new husband (Quinn). Bruno Ganz is great as the former old spy from the East German secret police, who begins to investigate out of curiosity (what else is there for an old spy to do?) as Martin is thrown headlong into the underbelly of Berlin with deadly strangers persistently on his tail. There are several spectacular car chases and it seems fitting that Martin (and Gina) are driving the symbolic white car, while the villains pump the gas in the black one.
Tension builds and by the time the twist kicks in, we are freefalling in fantasy land, albeit an exciting one. The fact that some of the dots don't quite add up does take us out of the film's reality; the complex plot becomes more and more ludicrous as we go along. Things do all neatly sort themselves out in the end though, and there's nice chemistry between Neeson and Kruger, who are centre stage most of the time. If you liked From Paris With Love, you will enjoy Unknown, which resonates from Neeson's star power and charismatic presence. It's a sophisticated dose of escapism - although I couldn't help thinking what a great film it might have been - with a better script.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Echoes of The Bourne Identity flash across the screen, or indeed of any other identity-loss thriller in which we follow our hero to an unexpected revelation - usually involving shady characters, a significant 'treasure' at risk and lovely women who may or not be what they seem. This predictability is entirely acceptable for an intelligent and carefully made thriller - but Unknown has a few too many cinematic sleights of hand to really grip our imagination and convince us. If we don't believe, we don't buy ...
The story keeps us guessing, but the filmmakers cheat here and there because of weakness in scripting. I'm not going to spoil the film and detail all the instances of such cheats, but just one example: at an early stage of the film when the amnesiatic Dr Harris (Liam Neeson) has woken from his coma in hospital, he sees a TV news report which reminds him of the hotel where he and his wife are staying. Instead of immediately calling the hotel to try and contact his wife, he leaves hospital and makes his way there in person. This doesn't ring true - but there is a plot reason for it.
Liam Neeson works hard and well as the hero challenged to prove his identity, Diane Kruger is fine as Gina the illegal Bosnian migrant (with a so-so accent) who gets caught up in the plot, and January Jones is effective as the Mrs Harris with a hidden agenda. The main supports, like the A list German actors Bruno Ganz and Sebastian Koch are terrific, and Frank Langella makes a powerful cameo as an old Harris friend who is deeply involved in the plot.
For all its feverish activity and secrecy, and for its worthy theme of a young Arab Sheik paying for the scientific breakthrough in food production that is at the heart of the plot, the film doesn't ignite the fires of excitement as it perhaps could.
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CAST: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceg, Rainer Bock, Mido Hamada
DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra
SCRIPT: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell (novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Flavio Martinez Labiano
EDITOR: Timothy Alverson
MUSIC: John Ottman, Alexander Rudd
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Richard Bridgland
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 17, 2011