The process of knowing in ‘Unknown’ comes as a mindblowing surprise

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) is the victim of an identity theft so severe that even his wife Liz (January Jones) doesn't know who he is in 'Unknown.'

On type and in the trailer, the plot of Unknown seems crazy enough: classic case of memory loss, but with an unsettling twist that someone else has claimed the identity of the person with the fuzzy memory. However, it’s possible that it gets even twistier—and it does. This is not only an action thriller, but a very psychological film that requires you to pay close attention, because not everything is what it seems.

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Liz (January Jones) go to Berlin for a biotechnology summit, but before settling in, he realizes he forgot a suitcase—the one containing all his identification—back at the airport and must go back to get it. He never makes it, as the cab he rides in accidentally jumps off a bridge and into the river. After a four-day coma, Martin wakes up with very little memory of what happened but even more unusual, he goes back to the hotel to discover that Liz doesn’t know him and that another man (Aidan Quinn) has claimed to be Martin Harris. Frustrated, he tracks down the cab driver who saved him after the accident, a young woman named Gina (Diane Kruger), to help him remember and take back his identity. Martin also enlists the help of private investigator Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz) and his oldest friend and colleague Professor Rodney Cole (Frank Langella). Little by little, Martin begins to rediscover his identity, but not without embarking on multiple wild goose chases by adversaries who know the truth about him.

Neeson continues to ride a wave as an admirable and strong action hero at the age of 58, but the comparisons to this film and 2008’s Taken, which he starred in, become unfounded after sitting through Unknown. While it’s true that both films have Neeson playing an American in Eastern Europe and that he has priceless things stolen from him—his daughter in Taken and basically, his entire life in Unknown—his latest venture boasts complexity, as opposed to the standard revenge story of Taken. Unknown plays out mysteriously and keeps the audience hanging in anticipation, not simply through thrilling action sequences, but also through the characters Martin and Gina encounter and various plot devices such as a sequence of numbers found in Martin’s notebook.

The psychological elements and narratives sometimes feel cluttered up and too much for even the brightest in the bunch to process, but ultimately, they deliver for possibly one of the smartest and mindblowing films of the year so far. It combines action at its finest and a puzzle of a plot requiring thought. When the puzzle is completed, it may or may not be what you expected, but the process of solving it stimulates the viewer’s mind and amplifies the experience of Unknown.


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