Since I’m paying for my movie tickets myself, I have a lot more wiggle room than real critics do when it comes to which movies I review. I usually try to pick a new one, but in cases where everything that’s coming out looks crappy, I’ll pick an older one rather than torture myself. That’s why I’m reviewing Unknown this week instead of Drive Angry or Hall Pass. To give you an idea of just how little I wanted to see these two films: I was not impressed by the trailer for Unknown either, and I only went because a friend offered to take me on her gift pass. At first glance, Unknown seems like just another excuse to engage Liam Neeson in fisticuffs:
A scientist suffers a head injury while visiting Berlin and wakes up to find that his life (and his wife) have been taken over by another man.
That’s the logline. Based on that alone, you might assume it was actually possible that he was crazy or in a coma or something from the head injury, but the trailer clears this up almost immediately by explaining that no, it’s really a conspiracy. I had assumed that having this fact revealed to me beforehand would ruin the movie, so I didn’t choose it last week. But I was wrong. Unknown turned out to be much better than I Am Number Four, so I’m glad I was coerced into going.
The movie takes about forty-five minutes to go over the ground that was covered in the trailer. Liam Neeson is Martin Harris, an unassuming biologist in Berlin for a conference. He accidentally leaves his briefcase behind at the airport, and on his way back to get it, his cab goes off a bridge.
Whoopsie, this isn’t the way to the airport!
He wakes up in hospital a few days later with no memory of what happened, but he does know that he is Dr. Martin Harris, that he’s in town for a biology conference, and that his wife, Elizabeth Harris (January Jones) must be looking for him.
Except when he makes his way back to the hotel, he finds out that she is not, in fact, looking for him. She is so not looking for him that she has found a new Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn) and she has never seen (or pretends she has never seen) the first Martin Harris before in her life. By a staggering coincidence, Martin’s family are all dead, his one friend from home is out of the office, and he’s only ever spoken to the conference organizer, Professor Bressler (Sebastian Koch) on the telephone. So since he can’t remember where his briefcase of ID is (the airport) and there’s no one to vouch for him, he gets kicked out of his own life.
I demand to be allowed to kick my own… I mean his… ass!
And as if that weren’t bad enough, subsequent confrontations with the new fake Martin Harris turn up disturbing little details, like the fact that new Martin has passports, driver’s licenses, and even family photos of him as Martin. He also knows details of his email and phone conversations with Professor Bressler, and of Martin’s own childhood.
MARTIN: I’m Martin!
MARTIN: No, I’m Martin!
PROFESSOR BRESSLER: I’m leaving.
Wone-weee, so wone-weee….
….and then he returns to the hospital for help and is almost murdered. Mystery solved: it’s all a big conspiracy.
Except mystery not solved, really, because there are several huge glaring questions that need to be answered:
1) Why has Martin Harris’ life been stolen?
2) Who has stolen Martin Harris’ life?
3) Who is in on the conspiracy?
The answers to these questions are danced round and parceled out in steps just like any good thriller would do, so it turns out that the trailer didn’t ruin the movie at all. It was just making sure we knew this movie was going to be more about external conflict than internal “Am I crazy?” conflict.
No, it’s not all in his head and he is actually frozen in time or abducted by aliens or anything like that.
Although if this means anything, she does kind of look like a bitch.
You see, I drive off bridges for a living.
I used to work for the Stazi, you know. That’s the secret police!
As you can imagine, it’s all very stressful. Add to that the fact that a bunch of guys keep turning up and trying to murder him, and you’ve got a very tense situation.
In true Liam Neeson fashion, reedy scientist Martin Harris soon discovers previously untapped talents in high speed car chasing and fisticuffs, and the game is on. Martin wants his life back, and he’ll go after it like a steamroller (but not quite as steamrollery as his character in Taken).
Take that! And that! It’s a little something they taught me in botany school!
It’s all very exciting, and the movie even managed to surprise me by throwing in a twist at the end that even I didn’t see coming. Well done, Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cromwell, but mostly well done Didier Van Cauwelaert, because he wrote the original novel version (called Out of My Head).
Unfortunately I can’t say well done Jaume Collet-Serra, because the director made a few pretty obvious logic gaffes that I felt compelled to jot down in the moment, which kind of ruined the flow sometimes. Jaume, here are some of the things you should have noticed:
1) The paramedics using the defibrillator on Martin when he was was lying in a puddle should have been killed, because the puddle would transfer the shock to them and stop their already beating hearts.
That’s Defibrillator Use 101, Jaume.
2) No one rides an ambulance AWAY from the hospital.
Ouch owie owie ow ow it burns!!
Not unless the plot requires him to be immobile when the killers arrive, anyway.
5) You can’t shut the trunk of a hatchback while driving the car unless you’re either Jean Grey or a Jedi.
No one with more than a single living brain cell, anyway. How hard did he hit his head again??
But you will notice that these are all very minor blips that did not detract from my being entertained by car chases, fistfights, mysteries, murder, and twisty secret revelations. So I can definitely recommend this movie to you if you, like me, find the new movies coming out this week to be less than worth the money they want for a ticket.