“A man awakens from a coma, only to discover that someone has taken on his identity and that no one, (not even his wife), believes him. With the help of a young woman, he sets out to prove who he is.”
The tag line for 2011 film Unknown, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, is “Take Back Your Life.” A line that becomes rather funny after the film; though I suppose it is meant to take on another nuance than what is at first presumed; as in: a person should decide whom it is they are and protect it, and take their Life into their own hands.
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) must be in somewhat of a befuddled state before having been in an accident that places him in a short-term coma. Why else would a person ever set down their briefcase that has everything of import in it? At least hand it to the wife waiting in the taxi while nobly helping the cab driver load the luggage into the trunk. It is a ridiculous move, especially in a world with a painfully heightened alert of identity theft. Perhaps if the film were to be set in the past at some point? The premise would make for a delicious (old-)Noir. Alas, the necessary device is a small quibble that most are sure to forgive.
What follows is a successful “What the Hell is going on here?!” Liam Neeson does the bewildered very well—and anger. January Jones plays his wife Elizabeth Harris and plays coy well, and while she has a fairly limited range, it is a range that works for this role–“I’m pretty, but I am also likely very evil.” And when did Aidan Quinn get so old? His ability to appear genuinely victimized by Neeson’s character muddles everything. Did he, or didn’t he steal Dr. Martin Harris’ identity. And Why?!
Neeson’s nurse from the hospital puts him in contact with an old Stasi officer (brilliantly played by Bruno Ganz) who has the experience and resources to help Neeson recover his past; which come in a series of splintered memories naturally centered around his wife. (Dr. Harris comes across as an easy mark for an ambitious young wife.) At first the introduction to Ernst Jürgen (Ganz) feels thin, but its message will become clear soon enough. You may or may not forget or forgive who you were, but someone else remembers and may not be so forgiving.
And Unknown is good about getting rid of the people who are in the way. The collateral damage is staggering. Forget finesse, bodies are dropping right and left. Gee, something big must be going on. In a Bourne-like manhunt, the chase is intense, and Liam doesn’t go it alone. Diane Kruger as Gina saved his life once, must she do it again? And if she, who has reason to mistrust anyone is able to trust Neeson, surely we can to.
In discussing Liam Neeson’s career of late with Sean (who has seen Taken, I have yet to), Harrison Ford’s career 10-15 years ago came to our mind; as well as both actors’ abilities to play the bad guy. And no matter how well they are at being the villain, we really resist their “innate evil”—because they are usually so good. They are Vulnerable and Deadly, and completely capable of keeping the viewers off-balance, despite audience-member’s desires. Brilliant casting. In Unknown everything has to be kept off-balance and labyrinthine.
The end is a nice twist to the plot and laces everything together in a nice bow. And then there is the end end; which I don’t know what to do with really. The usual fears associated with Identity Loss have taken a turn and the usual implications take a turn as well.
Unknown is a good suspense-thriller with a lead (Neeson) capable of holding the audience and portraying the necessary fractures to keep the audience guessing up until the very end where one may find the bow just a little too tidy?—but interesting nonetheless.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Produced by Joel Silver, Leonard Goldberg, Andrew Rona
Screenplay by Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell
Based on Out of My Head by Didier van Cauwelaert
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella
Music by John Ottman, Alexander Rudd
Cinematography Flavio Labiano
Editing by Timothy Alverson
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content.
Manohla Dargis’ NY Times [very good] Review wherein she samples some of the many questions the film raises, “How did everyone learn to drive like a Formula One racer? Where are the police? And why is the German Ms. Kruger playing a Bosnian in a movie set in Berlin?”
Roger Ebert’s Review wherein he wonders “Is there a term for the Paradox of Intended Accidental Consequences? That’s when a movie shows something that must be an accident, and it turns out to be part of a plan.” His review is very amusing (as per usual). If I had read his review before writing mine, I would have just linked it and have been done. hmm, maybe I should move this paragraph to the top of the post? ;)
Blog “cucullus non facit monachum’s” review, which I read before viewing some time ago. I found it helpful.