Unknown (2011)

So, for almost two hours, I was thoroughly entertained. I watched a plot unfold in an interesting way, I watched two good actors travel around Berlin, and I was genuinely thrilled for most of the time it was playing. And by the end, everything seemed to make sense. Unknown did what a good thriller needs to do. Not much more, but absolutely nothing less.

We begin by watching Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife, Liz (January Jones) arriving in the German capital. Martin is to give a presentation at a conference for the scientific community, while his wife is tagging along for the ride. Or maybe she’s smart as well, we don’t know. I know what you’re already thinking: “You mentioned two good actors going around Berlin. January Jones isn’t a good actor. What are you talking about?” Jones gives as wooden a performance as you can, but she wasn’t the actor I was talking about. Thankfully, Martin and Liz get separated soon.

See, at the airport, Martin’s briefcase gets left behind. Silly taxi driver. If only he had decided to not forget his briefcase, and we wouldn’t have a problem. He leaves Liz at the airport, taking a taxi driven by Gina (Diane Kruger, the second “good actor” I was talking about), but they don’t reach the airport. A couple of things happen, eventually leading to the cab falling into the water and a daring rescue being made to save Martin’s life. He wakes up four days later in a hospital. Gina is nowhere to be found.

Upon leaving the hospital and attempting to return to the conference where he’s supposed to be giving a speech, he finds out that he might not be who he thinks he is. We’ve been told that his name is Martin Harris, and that’s what he believes as well. But when he gets to the hotel, his wife claims she doesn’t recognize him. And she’s with another man, who also says he’s Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn). What’s going on? We want to know, and so does Martin (if that is his real name).

I won’t give away what happens after this. Neeson’s character, whatever his name is, tries to find out who he is and what his purpose is. He eventually enlists the help of his taxi driver, Gina, and together they set off in trying to find out just exactly what’s going on here. Watching this unfold is very entertaining, even when the explanations become even more ridiculous as the film goes on.

Thrillers are often preposterous, and I’m sure that Unknown is no exception. Despite this, I didn’t find anything that happening in Unknown to be too ridiculous. Maybe it was, and I was just so involved that I didn’t care, but I believed that everything in the film could have happened. Well, maybe not the time when a man slid down a ladder and landed perfectly afterward, (keep in mind this was a three or four story ladder), but in terms of revelations regarding who characters are, I didn’t have any problem with that.

In fact, when certain plot twists occur, you think back and you realize the hints that were given before they were revealed. These are the best type of twists from where I’m sitting. They not only reward attentive viewers, but on a second viewing, they become valuable in looking for clues. If a movie pulls it out of nowhere, it’ll seem more arbitrary. That’s the case in one of the scenes here, but not because of the twists itself — a character explaining the twist is the contrived part.

See, Frank Langella has a minor, yet key, role in the film. He appears in just three or four scenes, the final of which he reveals something major. There were hints to this buildup, but apart from the scene directly preceding the one where the reveal occurs, there had been no hints in regards to who Langella’s character is or why he’s important. I was sucked in by the film, though, and as a result, I didn’t care too much when it happened. But I can see other people disliking this, and in retrospect, it wasn’t Unknown‘s brightest moment.

Liam Neeson still makes for an imposing force on-screen, and watching him roam around Berlin makes for an intriguing viewing. Adding Diane Kruger to the mix is a good choice, as was staying away from January Jones, who appears in only a few choice scenes, but mostly just stays out of sight. She doesn’t have any emotion in her performance, although maybe that was intentional considering — no, I can’t tell you that. Go see the film and see for yourself.

There is enough intrigue to hold your attention for the entirety of Unknown‘s runtime. I wasn’t bored for a single frame of this film. There are times when you question times early in the film, like during these odd flashbacks that Neeson’s character always seems to get. But you’re still thinking even if what’s presented on film isn’t currently captivating. You’re hoping to figure out what’s true and what isn’t before the film tells you, meaning that it can get away with lulls in the action because you’re going to be reflecting on what you’ve just seen anyway.

Unknown is a great thriller. It kept me entertained for the entire time it was playing, because even when it isn’t going full speed ahead, I was thinking about things that happened earlier and trying to piece everything together. It has two solid actors in key roles, and while a couple of the scenes feel contrived, they only felt that way in retrospect for me because of how involved I was with the film.

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