Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones.
This thriller about a scientist who arrives in Germany only to meet with an accident, lose a part of his memory, have his wife disown him and be a target on some German goons’ hit list is absolutely riveting. Action, drama, intrigue and good performances make this critically underrated film a must watch.
Dr Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (Jones) arrive in Berlin for a Biotechnology conference that’s going to change the face of the agricultural industry forever. Forgetting his bag at the airport he leaves his wife at the hotel and cabs it back to retrieve his briefcase but an unfortunate accident leaves him with a head concussion and partial memory loss. When he goes back to the hotel he sees his wife with another man who claims to be him. No identity, fragments of memory and a mysterious stalker force Harris on to the streets of Berlin, frantically searching for clues and some help piecing together his shattered life.
At first as the plot unfolds, a feeling of déjà vu struck me. I recalled the Jodie Foster film Flightplan where her character and the daughter take a flight on a state of the art jet liner but when she wakes up from a nap, the daughter is missing and everyone on the plane treats her as if she’s insane and that she never came onboard with a daughter in the first place. In any case, Neeson’s character doesn’t get all hero on us right away. He stumbles, fumbles and is lost at first just like most people in that situation would be. His angst and worry about his wife are real. Those are the things we’d think about if we found ourselves in a situation like that. Oh and you also realise that without your passport and driver’s license, you’re pretty much nobody!
Assisting Dr Harris are his illegal Serbian immigrant taxi driver (the one who pulls him out of the wrecked taxi in the beginning but runs away later) Gina (Kruger) and a former SS Nazi agent-turned-investigator called Jurgen (Bruno Ganz) who slowly but deftly engages in pulling together Harris’s memories and discovers a plot to assassinate someone at the conference.
What I love about Unknown is exactly what the title suggests. Everything is so unknown. Who are these people chasing him, who is his wife, is he Dr Harris, who can he trust, what is the plot and what are the bad guys after? All these factors coupled with some slick action sequences (the car chase is particularly well shot) had the reviewers at the screening pretty much glued to their seats and the screen. Full marks to the director and camera guys who’ve used some deft camera work here. There’s a scene with a bad guy sliding down a fire escape ladder on a building that is so brilliant I felt like it was in 3-D or something and I was sliding down with him. My stomach churned just like when you’re on a roller coaster and it dives. Wow.
The grey, cold and unfamiliar (even to viewers) surroundings of Germany add to the mystery of the movie. I particularly liked the way the characters in the film are so nuanced from the hospital nurse who tries to help Harris to the investigator Jurgen who battles old age while fighting to uncover the secrets behind this puzzle. Neeson as the unlikely action hero is pretty brilliant I must say. The confusion he experiences is written on the lines of his face. His eyes speak much more than the scant dialogue he has in the film. Kruger is average but Frank Langella who shows up in the end is eminently despicable in the most sophisticated manner possible, which is a treat to behold.