Unknown (2011) – Movie Review

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Unknown is a question of identity.

Sure, Robert Ludlum all but defined the “Who am I?” action genre with his Jason Bourne series, but it’s premise that is frequently revisited both in fiction and in movies regardless of satisfying outcomes. 

Here, Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a name you’ll hear frequently.  He’s a biotech researcher who suffers amnesia resulting from an auto accident (what else?), driven by a taxi driver who mysteriously leaves the scene, in a foreign land (to play to the “stranger in a strange land” tension),  without his passport or other identification (which smart people usually retain on their person when traveling abroad), and which was accidentally left in a briefcase at the airport (of course).  Within minutes, the premise is conveniently laid out, all in a manner with which the viewer can identify.  And Neeson is very effective at capturing the reasonable, “Uh oh.  What would I do in that situation?” ethos.

Then our assumptions unravel as his wife denies knowing him, and our logic becomes tested.  The plot is not overly impressive.  It’s a standard good guy being chased by bad guy scenario, with the reasons withheld until the end…because otherwise it would be a bore.

There were three satisfying elements to the film for me.

1) Action.  These scenes are well done, even if seen before.image

2) Tests of character judgment.  We understand Dr. Harris to be an authentic, respectable, concerned person with whom we identify.  Can a knock on the head (absent brain damage, which has been proven elsewhere) change a person’s morality?  Did it?   And how do we assess his chosen investigator (played by Bruno Ganz, seemingly an unfortunate victim of the film editor), a prideful but sympathetic veteran of East Germany’s Stazi?  And lastly, amidst international simmering regarding illegal immigration issues, how do we overlook this bias when it comes to the resourceful, taxi driving Gina?  Do attractive and blonde out-merit arguments against those breaking the law?

3)  When dealing with a question of identity, who better than to enlist Sherlock Holmes?  No, he doesn’t make an appearance, but the fallacy of so many movies is that either things don’t quite add up or that they’re resolved by the introduction of an imaginative “fix it” plot device that leaves the audience rolling their eyes. Sure, there are some quibbles, but in the large, the plot resolves itself neatly within the Holmesian quip, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

This is a film that can be enjoyed in the theater or at home.  It’s main shortcoming is that, like most action movies, it doesn’t bring anything to the genre that demands a revisit. 

1 comment :

  1. But you didn't say if there was any light saber play or not? ;)

    That said, "adjustment bureau" has my eye...