'Unknown' Review By harveycritic

Provocative! Amnesiacs often cannot recognize others. Here, others cannot recognize an amnesiac!
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Visuals

Warner Bros

Reviewed for MovieWebby Harvey Karten

Grade: B+

Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra

Written By: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell, from Didier Van Cauwelaert's novel

Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch

Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 2/19/11

Opens: February 18, 2011


Things are seldom what they seem,/ Skim milk masquerades as cream says Buttercup in Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore. To fully understand what he means, see Unknown (originally titled Unknown White Male), which opened nationally this weekend. Unknown, a mystery-thriller, takes place in Berlin, Germany, where Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) attend a scientific convention at the Adlon Kempinski Hotel. This Five Star luxury establishment, located at Pariser Platz square and Unter den Linden Boulevard, is a place of sheer luxury, frequented by celebrities and political leaders, a place to see and to be seen at. With fifteen meeting and banquet rooms, two ballrooms, concierge, butler service and luxurious shops the Adlon Kempinski signals to Dr. Harris and his wife that they indeed "have arrived" and will have a glorious stay. They are scheduled to stay at the Eisenhower Suite ($723USD per night).

A perfect vacation this is not: things will go downhill. Dr. Harris had forgotten his briefcase at the airport, the Eisenhower Suite is not available, Dr. Harris takes a taxi to the airport, falls into a coma after a car accident, his wife does not look for him. He wakes up after four days with a mild case of amnesia, proceeds to his hotel, only to find out that: his wife has no recollection as to who he is, and that another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity. Ignored by disbelieving authorities and hunted by mysterious assassins, he finds himself alone, tired, and on the run. Here's the fascinating switch: the person with amnesia is supposed to be unable to recognize people he should know. In this case, the people he knows appear to be amnesiac!

Luckily enough there are some decent people around, who are willing to help Dr. Harris and appear, during this strange tale: a taxi driver, Gina (Diane Kruger), a retired Stasi agent, Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz), an old American friend, Professor Rodney Cole (Frank Langella) and a hospital nurse, Gretchen (Eva Lobau).

What will happen to Dr. Harris? Will his wife acknowledge his existence? Will he be able to attend the scientific convention in Berlin? Will he run into more accidents, car crashes, violence or worse? You guessed it, he would: the obligatory crashes and explosions add melodramatic flourishes, proving that this fairly high-budget production team has no problem destroying Mercedes vehicles.

This thriller may be unbelievable but the premise--the amnesiac recognizes everybody but everybody denies knowing him. "Unknown" is directed with skillful patience by Jaume Collet-Serra, and acted, in well paced performances, by lead actors Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger with supporting roles by January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella and Sebastian Koch. Liam Neeson, in virtually every scene, rivets the audience. Flavio Martinez Labiano's filming in Berlin makes good use of the Hotel Adlon, with excellent editing by Timothy Alverson.

Rated PG-13. 113 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

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