I guess if you really want to put an American in a harsh situation,
have him lose his memory in a foreign country. For Americans that's
probably the closest thing to Hell on Earth, right up there with being
denied Monday Night Football in Hi-Def. (Just kidding) A few films have
similar premises of an American being a fish out of his own waters:
"the Bourne Identity", "Frantic", and "Seven Days Seven Nights".
Hollywood is also replete with stories about people either losing their
memories or simply being "lost" inside a political situation because of
forces beyond their control, such as "the Changeling", Hitchcock's
"Spellbound", "the Truman Show"; even "Total Recall" and "Invasion of
the Body Snatchers" have similarities.
The one element that saves these movies is the premise of the main character being in essentially a "no win situation". Despite how contrived or "unrealistic" the whole plot is, if the character is interesting enough, and the situation compelling enough, then you tend to run with it. Part of the fun is learning the greater story along with the character. It may have become a rather over-used plot devise, but it tends to work, in part because pieces of the puzzle can be thrown at the character without him understanding what it means.
"Unknown" falls into this category of a character being trapped in a situation he does not completely understand, and the story is told almost entirely from the his point of view. After a near-death experience in Berlin, an American wakes up in a hospital room and his only knowledge is that he is Dr Martin Harris and he was there for a Biotech conference. But he has lost his identification along the way, and no one seems to believe him. He even returns to the hotel where he was supposed to be staying and finds his wife. Except his wife not only denies him but appears to be married to a man also by the name of Dr Martin Harris. Will the real Martin Harris please stand up? Starts to ring of a suspense version of the old television show "To Tell the Truth" where three people would claim they were the same person, and panelists would try to figure out who was the "real" person.
I don't see "and the nominees for Best Actor are Liam Neeson for Uknown" in the near future, but at the same time it really is Neeson who makes the entire film work. His honesty as an actor delivers a performance right on the money that kept me on the edge of my seat most of the way, to the point where I really wanted to know how he would get out of this. I never quite fell out of my chair, the way I did when I saw the original "the Bourne Identity" with Richard Chamberlain, but "Unknown" is first-rate entertainment of the escapist variety.
The two leading ladies also keep the entertainment level high, particularly January Jones (of Mad Men fame) who plays against type, as the loyal wife turned traitor. And Diane Kruger as a Bosnian refugee who is working in Berlin to eventually get her immigration papers reluctantly befriends Neeson and becomes an integral part of the plot. Roger Ebert in his review points out that a lot of things are too coincidental. Yeah...it's a suspense/action movie. So what else is new? If there's anything I can say about "Unknown" is you'll never find yourself looking at your watch, which is pretty high praise these days.
Action / Mystery / Thriller
Action / Mystery / Thriller
A biochemist and his dishy wife arrive in Berlin for a conference at which a scientist and his controversial Arab funder will announce breakthrough research. While his wife checks into the hotel, he grabs a cab to return to the airport for his briefcase, left at the curb. En route, an auto accident puts him in a coma, from which he awakes four days later without identification and with gaps in his memory. He goes to the hotel: his wife refuses to recognize him and another man has claimed his identity. With help from a nurse, the cab driver, a retired Stasi agent, and an academic friend, he tries to unravel what's going on. Is the answer in the briefcase?
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January 26, 2012 at 10:49 PM