Reasons to like this movie? They are 'Unknown'

February 21, 2011|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Liam Neeson, left, and January Jones are shown in a scene from, "Unknown."
Associated Press

Early on in "Unknown," the film's main character suffers severe brain damage. He is still the smartest character in the movie. The man is quite possibly a biochemist named Dr. Martin Harris and he is definitely played by Liam Neeson.

 The film is one that is quick to present us with a number of mysteries. Is the man Harris?  Is someone else Harris?  Why would someone else pretend to be Harris? If the man isn't Harris, then who is he? Are the bad guys just as confused or do they have the answers?  

You're supposed to care deeply about these questions, because the film wants you to see it just to get the answers. It doesn't promise to be funny or beautiful, it just promises mystery. It doesn't even claim to be an entertaining mystery, just a mystery.

Because you won't go into the movie caring about Martin Harris or anyone else, all the suspense surrounds the idea of an answer instead of the answer itself.  Will the answer be simple or complex?  Will they reveal the answer at around the hundred-minute mark or will they wait until the last second? Will the answer be open to interpretation? Will any part of the story turn out to be just a dream?

The story begins as Harris (I'll refer to the Neeson character as "Our Harris" from now on) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) travel to Berlin for a biotechnology conference. She goes to check into their hotel, but he realizes that he forgot his briefcase at the airport. He jumps into a cab driven by a girl named Gina (Diane Kruger) to go retrieve it. But the car crashes off a bridge and Harris wakes up in the hospital four days later with severe head trauma.  

The doctor warns him that he might have some false memories as a result of the accident. Harris just wants to get back to his life  He returns to the hotel only to discover that his wife is with another man. The man is a biochemist named Dr. Martin Harris (Aiden Quinn).  Neither of them claims to know Our Harris.

 Our Harris is at first terrified that someone has stolen his identity, but then remembers what the doctor said about false memories.  Now he doesn't know what to think. On top of that, there are people trying to kill him. Perhaps Gina the pretty cab driver knows something…

The bad guys make lousy villains if they can't kill Our Harris  Not only is Our Harris mentally disoriented as a result of the crash, he's physically disabled. He should be a sitting duck. But their idea of an attack on Our Harris is to try and catch him when he's a few feet from the door to a train that's about to leave its station. These people quickly eliminate sympathetic witnesses (so we know that they are indeed bad guys) and then take their time with Our Harris so he can escape at the last minute. They have a higher motive than killing Our Harris, and they're laughably bad at executing that plan too.  

"Unknown" is little more than a two-hour wait for answers to its own questions. Most of the film is useless, its dialogue and action are generic. Its plot is full of twists, which ironically are completely expected in such a mystery. As for the ultimate answer, I guess it technically fits with the plot, although it does mean that some of the film's characters have been lacking in common sense.  

Then again, no one is about to accuse the film's characters of possessing common sense (Our Harris suffered head trauma, what's everyone else's excuse?).  "Unknown" is not a movie where you leave feeling cheated, but you do leave knowing that you could have spent your time and money on something better.  

Two stars out of five.  

"Unknown" is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content.  Its runtime is 113 minutes.  


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