Movie Review: UNKNOWN

Back in 1987, I reviewed for my school paper the movie Suspect, starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, and Liam Neeson in one of his first American features. I remember writing that even though Neeson was mostly silent as a deaf-mute homeless man, his towering presence commanded the screen and announced him as an actor to watch.

Almost a quarter century later (dang, I’m old), that presence is more potent than ever in movies like Unknown, in which he plays a man up against impossible odds. His character, Dr. Martin Harris, in Berlin for a bio-tech conference, gets in a car accident and regains consciousness only to find that everyone he knows, including his wife (an oddly robotic January Jones), denies knowing him. To add insult to his head injury, another man (Aidan Quinn) has already taken over his life, with all the knowledge and credentials to prove he is Dr. Harris. What the funk?

Left without any I.D. (apparently he can’t even check into a seedy motel without it), the original Harris races around the city searching for answers while eluding men who want him dead. His only ally is the cab driver (Diane Kruger) who saved his life during the accident but has reasons for staying under the radar.

The movie is helped along by Neeson, the intriguing mystery, and some decent action scenes, including a white-knuckling car chase. The Berlin locale is nice, too, though I wish the filmmakers had showcased it more. How cool would it have been to have a climactic scene happen at the Brandenburg Gate? Or, a la Frank Fry clinging to the Statue of Liberty in Hitchcock’s Saboteur, have someone dangling from the Victory Column in Tiergarten? As it is, we get just a couple brief glimpses of Berlin’s iconic landmarks and the rest could have happened in any European city. The denouement takes place at the well-known Hotel Adlon but it looks like many other upscale hotels.

Kruger is better employed as the scrappy Gina, a different kind of role for the actress who usually plays icy, elegant women. Gina is streetwise and proves herself a valuable sidekick to Harris. It is a bit hard, though, to buy a woman looking like a hip fashion model as a cab driver/waitress.

But that’s the least unbelievable thing in the movie. After an interesting setup, the resolution includes a too-convenient coincidence and actions that don’t make sense (Jones’s character does something incredibly stupid). Some plot points aren’t even addressed, leaving me almost as confused as Harris. It’s not possible to go into details without revealing spoilers so I’ll just say that in the end, the answers to many questions remain unknown.

Nerd verdict: Intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying Unknown

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    February 21, 2011 at 6:13 am

    I’d watch Liam Neeson sit in an empty room reading the phone book. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply
      Christine
      February 21, 2011 at 7:27 am

      I’ll bring the popcorn, Elizabeth. ;P

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        February 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm

        Can we also throw Daniel Day-Lewis into that room?

        • Reply
          Poncho
          February 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm

          I’ll stay in the room next door watching Diane Kruger doing anything she wants. I wouldn’t bring popcorn since I suspect I would be drooling… A LOT.

        • Reply
          Elizabeth
          February 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm

          DDL is in. I’m also bringing Alan Rickman. ๐Ÿ˜›

          • Reply
            Christine
            February 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm

            NICE additions, ladies!! No worries, Poncho, I think drool bibs for all will be in order. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Who’s got the drinks?

            • Reply
              Pop Culture Nerd
              February 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm

              I got everything you need, Christine, including a drool bucket for Poncho. Just bring your own awesome selves.

              How come there’s only one woman in this room? I’m calling Cate Blanchett…

              • Reply
                Elizabeth
                February 21, 2011 at 5:28 pm

                Well if we’re calling in the girl-crushes…paging Angie Harmon.

                • Reply
                  Poncho
                  February 21, 2011 at 10:26 pm

                  Cate Blanchett sounds fine too! And while you’re at it, you can bring Amy Adams or Anne Hathaway to the party ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    February 21, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I thought the most unbelievable scenes in the movie were whenever January Jones was onscreen. LOL! Love her on Mad Men, but GEEZ she’s terrible here.

    Liam rocks in most anything he does which is why I went to see it over the weekend. I kept calling it TAKEN when I was speaking to my friends because that was what the trailer reminded me of so much. Really liked TAKEN because Liam gets to be all badass fun throughout. Didn’t like this one. Or rather, I DID like it until 3/4’s of the way in. Then I just had too many questions that went unanswered. Frankly, it just got dumb. But, for most of the movie I was really enjoying it.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      February 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm

      Jones was inexplicably bad. She delivered her lines as if she’d never acted before.

  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    February 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks for saving me $10.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      February 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

      You’re welcome!

  • Reply
    le0pard13
    February 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    I saw this one yesterday and did enjoy it. I’m hesitant to name the recent thriller it’s riffing on for fear of spoiling it for those who have yet to see it, but I do recommend it for Neeson and Kruger. As well, I appreciated it for taking its time to build the story and tension — something today’s filmmakers show very little patience in doing. Fine review, Elyse. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    February 22, 2011 at 1:23 am

    Sounds like a good one to watch on DVD, PCN. Nothing against Berlin, but if it was set in Paris, I’d be tempted to elevate it to my “theatre-viewing” list.

  • Reply
    Rachel
    February 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Test comment to see if I’m still black-balled… Not sure what’s going on with my comments, er, unless you’re trying to tell me something. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Reply
    Rachel
    February 25, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Oh! aha! Success! This review told me everything I needed to know. Thanks! I was intrigued by the film because it employs one of my favorite set-ups but, ultimately, the trailer had many warnings signs of “not that great” ahead and now I can see it may be better left for Netflix.

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