Review: Unknown

First a confession: when I post a movie review, it is probably not because I am anxious to inform the world on my opinions about a particular movie. While getting different perspective on a movie is nice, much better reviews are typically available elsewhere. However, movie reviews are relatively quick to write, whereas a thoughtful blog post on politics or philosophy takes time and introspection. So particularly when I don’t have too much time but I feel a need to put out a blog post because it’s been a while, a movie review helps fill in the gap. And who knows, perhaps some of you out there actually like reading my movie reviews. Stranger things have happened. And if, like Unknown, it is a movie just released in the theaters, my review will also draw a certain number of casual surfers.

Unknown would seem to be a strange pick of a movie for me to review, as my very last post was on the 1998 movie Les Miserables. Both Unknown and Les Miserables star Liam Neeson. Thirteen years have passed and Liam Neeson has not gotten any younger. (I looked it up. He is 58.) However, he has lost none of his acting skill. In Unknown, Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a researcher sent to Berlin to attend a hoity biotechnology summit where a handsome and benevolent Middle East prince is the guest of honor. Martin brings along his shapely, blonde and naturally much younger wife Liz (January Jones). They arrive in Berlin on a snowy February morning and quickly make their way to their four-star hotel. Unfortunately, Martin left an important bag at the airport, so he immediately hustles back to the airport in a taxi while his wife tries to check in.

Never get in a taxi with Dr. Martin Harris. A dazed and jetlagged Dr. Harris finds his taxi careening off a bridge, a maneuver necessary to avoid a refrigerator that falls off a truck that comes hurling at the taxi. His taxi driver Gina (Diane Kruger) and he quickly end up in the river. He is knocked unconscious and falls into a coma. Amazingly, the taxi driver is able to save herself and him before the car descends to the bottom of the river. Martin wakes up four days later in a Berlin hospital with no identification. He quickly remembers who he is, but when he gets back to the hotel he is baffled to find that another Dr. Martin purporting to be him is there, and his wife has no idea who he is. By now the essence of the plot is clear: Martin must reestablish his identity somehow and figure out what is going on. It soon becomes clear that something very nefarious is going on because at the hospital an aide tries to drug him and his nurse ends up dead. His nurse does manage to give him the name and address of an old East German spy (played by Bruno Ganz, who also starred as Adolph Hitler) who helps him figure out what is going on.

Yes, it’s a murder-mystery, and a decent one at that with a decent twist ending you likely won’t see coming. Most of the actors are top rate, and Neeson is not necessarily the best actor on this set. There is also the seasoned actor Frank Langella (who played Richard Nixon), who seems connected with the shadowy bad guys while also somehow also knowing Martin. Martin eventually finds the taxi driver Gina, who turns out to be an illegal immigrant trying to buy her citizenship and who is hiding from the law. She becomes a somewhat unwilling but necessary accomplice in Martin’s quest to reestablish his identity. Diane Kruger plays a pivotal part as Gina, and she makes a convincing albeit quite attractive illegal immigrant. I will warn you about one thing: when Gina is driving a taxi, watch out.

There are lots of car chases through downtown Berlin in this movie. I don’t know about you, but car chases long ago lost any allure with me. It seems a shame to wreck so many beautifully engineered German cars, particularly the expensive ones, just to entertain us. I would have been just as happy with more chases on foot, and there are plenty of those as well. Figuring out what’s going on is a challenge too. Suffice to say that all is not quite what it appears, and you may get a clue if you pay careful attention to the early scenes between Martin and his wife.

What Unknown is is a well done, rather standard espionage murder-mystery, with the twist that it is harder to figure out because of the accident and Martin’s shaky memory from being in the coma. Despite tight directing, excellent acting all around and an engaging story, you have seen lots of movies just like this that are about as good. So unless you are a big Liam Neeson fan (like my wife) there is no particular reason to seek this one out, unless you are just in the mood for a better than average movie in this genre.

3.2 out of four points.

[xrr rating=3.2/4]

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