Wednesday, March 02, 2011


UNKNOWN (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2011)

In UNKNOWN Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) travels to Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones) for a biotechnology summit. Having forgotten his briefcase at the airport, he hops in a taxi to go retrieve it while his wife checks into the hotel. The cab ride ends in an accident and the car depositing itself in a river. The driver is able to extricate Martin from the sinking vehicle, but when he awakens from a coma four days later in the hospital, he struggles to remember who he is.

Gradually the professor puts the pieces of his identity together, but he still lacks the documents to prove he is who he says he is. Complicating matters, Liz claims not to know him and is with another man (Aidan Quinn) who purports to be Dr. Martin Harris. In the hope of getting to the bottom of this mystery Martin tracks down and turns to Gina (Diane Kruger), the illegal Bosnian immigrant who was his cabbie on that fateful day.

UNKNOWN is a serviceable thriller in the classic Hitchcockian wrong man mold. Martin’s journey into an underworld of cautious illegal immigrants, hoodlums, and former Stasi agents steeps the film in paranoia. Bruno Ganz’s delicious turn as a onetime member of the East German intelligence community adds that extra Teutonic menace below the film’s surface. UNKNOWN often glides by on the European setting’s elegance and grime and Neeson’s steely determination as he works to solve his puzzling predicament.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra links it all together in a generally efficient way, but eventually it seems like the film is dawdling as Martin searches for answers but mostly finds more questions. Especially after he showed the bad guys who not to mess with in TAKEN, there’s a desire to see some Neeson ownage that UNKNOWN frustrates. Enough with the shoe leather scenes. Let’s get to Neeson turning guys into ground beef.

When the narrative explanations begin to tumble out, their absurdity clashes with the otherwise resolute nature of the film. At issue isn’t so much that the elucidations regarding Martin's past aren’t realistic, as UNKNOWN is firmly in movie territory. The problem is that the remarkable revelations don’t mesh with film’s grounded nature. As incredible as it may sound regarding an amnesia thriller, UNKNOWN’S plot isn’t silly enough to merit where it ends up taking the main character.

Grade: C

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