Film Review: UNKNOWN

Directed by Jaume Collett Serra
Written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Bruno Ganz, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella
February, 2011

There comes a point in a thriller when you notice that the movie is either working for you or it isn’t. If you begin to wonder: could that have happened or is that plausible, obviously the movie has failed. One way of avoiding such questions is to keep the pace of a movie so quick that the viewer has no time to ask such questions. I think UNKNOWN may have largely succeeded with me because of this gambit. If I want to keep track of the plot in a thriller, I have little time to question it. Keep those balls in the air and my eyes are trained upward.

PLOT: Dr. Harris (Neeson) arrives in Berlin to attend an important conference, which will announce a new species of corn that will eliminate hunger. There have also been many attempts to murder the foreign prince who is financing his research.

He and his wife (Jones) are checking into a hotel when he notices an important attaché is missing and immediately hops into a cab to try to retrieve it. An accident ensues and when he awakes four days later, he is no longer Dr. Martin Harris. Dr. Harris is now another man (Quinn) and his wife no longer knows him. No one does. He is without proof of citizenship or even proof of existence. He spends the rest of the movie figuring out what scheme has taken his identity away from him with the help of the lovely Diane Kruger and the venerable Bruno Ganz.

When will some director infuse January Jones with a personality? She brings the movie to a halt every frame she inhabits. Kruger, although perhaps less conventionally pretty, is so much more interesting as an actor. And the acting of the rest of the cast follows suit. This movie looks good; Berlin seems both noir and nice at the same time. There are three great car chases and lots of action. I didn’t see the solution until nearly the end, but I rarely do. I enjoyed this movie and recommend it. Movies this time of year are rarely brilliant, but this one was good enough.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in