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Unknown Suffers From Implausibility, Illogicality

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell from the novel Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert
Warner Bros., 2011

I think, in general, we the people of the film-watching ilk like to watch a movie where there is a twisty plot, where we think we know where everything is going and then BAM! it takes a left turn for a satisfying surprise.  Unfortunately, there are many times when screenwriters invent a twisty plot and either no one bothers to think, “Why the hell would anyone go through this trouble?” or the whole thing is shrugged off: Yeah, this probably wouldn’t be the way it happens ever in the history of mankind, but it’s cool right?

This is the conundrum with Unknown, which isn’t a terrible movie per se, but by the end of it, you might think to yourself, “Yeeeeeah…but, but…no, that’s not how bad guys hatch plots.” Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) in order to attend a biotechnology conference. He accidentally leaves a briefcase, yeah, full of his most important documents, at the airport, and without telling his wife he hops back into a cab to retrieve them. Topsy-turvy events ensue by which the car finds itself in a river, the cab driver saves him from drowning, but Martin goes into a coma.

Four days later, he wakes up in a hospital with some memory loss, but he recovers enough to figure out he’s Martin Harris and he’s important in the field of biotechnology. Imagine his surprise when he walks into the conference and his wife doesn’t recognize him and there’s another guy claiming to be Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn)! He’s escorted out, and he doesn’t have anything to prove his identity, and everything points to the impostor being the real Martin Harris.. He’s screwed. So then he tracks down the hot cab driver Gina (Diane Kruger), who fled the scene of the accident after saving his life, to help piece together what the hell has happened. A nurse at the hospital gives him the number of a former Stasi agent named Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz), who specializes in finding people, places, and things. Martin desperately calls another person, Rodney Cole (Frank Langella), who knows who he is and hopes he can come out to Berlin to clear the air.

But meanwhile, there are people who want Martin dead and are somehow making this a very hard job. One of the most head-scratching conventions in movies is when bad guys will break necks of unimportant characters, but with important characters they always need to make it look like an accident for some reason. So, for the longest time, henchmen try to stick Martin with some sort of needle with Death Juice of some sort, rather than just kill him in a conventional way. Why would they want him dead and replace him with an impostor? It might have something to do with the biotechnology conference, and a Saudi prince Shada (Mido Hamada), who has been subject to several assassination attempts.

Now, I won’t say much more about the plot because then it starts getting into surprise territory. But man, do I ever want to discuss the implausibility of all this. I’ll say this: the plot that is hatched by the bad guys is something that looks well thought-out, professional, and leaves no evidence. But there is absolutely no reason for them to go through this much trouble. It’s pretty laughable, actually, when you think of the ultimate motive. It’s like these killers have so much fun at their jobs that they want to invent new ways to pull off jobs. “Ah, we did conventional killing last year. Let’s do something fun this year.”

You might actually enjoy going to this with a mischievous mind. There is a scene with Neeson and Quinn where they both try to prove they’re Martin Harris to this important scientist (The Lives of Others’ Sebastian Koch), and say the exact things word for word in a scene that is extremely comical. It was here where I started imagining re-cutting the trailer for this movie to make it seem like it’s a comedy rather than a thriller. Thinking back on all the things that happen in this movie, it’s a more fitting genre.

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