Who is Dr. Martin Harris and why do shady characters pursue him? Liam Neeson explores identity, good and evil in the international mystery thriller Unknown. Unknown is now playing at Hartford area theaters.
Neeson enlivens this suspenseful B movie as he continues to recover from the loss of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, in a Canadian ski accident in 2009. Neeson has thrown himself into action thriller performances such as Taken, Clash of the Titans and The Next Three Days. He completed his work on Chloe right after Richardson died.
Harris arrives in Berlin for a biotechnology conference with his ravishing young wife Liz (mysterious, elegant January Jones). A briefcase containing his passport is left behind at the airport. This unleashes a string of mishaps beginning with an automobile accident that leaves him in a coma for four days.
When he awakens, Harris is warned about his fractured and rearranged memory. He is sure of one thing: he is Dr. Martin Harris. Armed with his wits, a bankroll of euros and shattered images from the past, Harris tracks down his wife at their hotel.
To his surprise, Liz denies knowing him. Instead she accompanies an imposter (Aidan Quinn), who claims that he is Dr. Martin Harris. With no passport, Harris is ejected from the hotel.
Tantalizing events follow. A menacing stranger follows Harris in a U-Bahn tunnel, and later poses as a hospital employee during a follow-up MRI. Eva Lobau plays a helpful nurse.
Bruno Ganz is fascinating as Ernst Jurgen, a former member of East Germany’s secret police and now a freelance troubleshooter who agrees to help Harris. Jurgen and Harris unearth more puzzle pieces. A Saudi prince will speak at the conference. Harris’ lifelong friend Professor Bressler (Sebastian Koch) is bringing his daughters Lily and Iris to the gathering. The botanical names of two flowers hold great significance, but Harris can’t recall what that is.
Diane Kruger lends a lively performance as Bosnian illegal Gina, the taxi driver who saves Harris’ life after the crash. Harris tracks her down at her new waitressing job at a café. Paid to keep silent, Gina’s goal is to save up enough to become a naturalized citizen.
Who are we really? Does the sum of our actions define us? When Rodney Cole (Frank Langella) arrives in Germany, Harris begins to question who his real friends are.
Unknown is filled with good chase scenes (by car and on foot), hand-to-hand brawls, crashes and a drawn-out explosion. Buoyed by an excellent cast, Unknown is less visceral than Taken and features a more interesting theme.
Cinematographer Flavio Labiano renders stately, cold and modern German vistas. The film is hampered by a weak script.
In an Esquire interview, Neeson spoke about how he deals with grief. “I think I survived by running away some. Running away to work.” The persistence of pain two years later, according to the actor, is “just extraordinary.”
If you like Unknown, you may enjoy: The Secret in Their Eyes; The Town; The American.
Unknown 2011 / PG-13 / 1 hour, 53 min
Cast Overview: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Eva Lobau
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Genres: Drama, Mystery, Thriller