Doctor Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) doesn't have the smoothest arrival in Berlin, leaving his suitcase at the airport, then nearly drowning after an accident in the taxi on the way back to retrieve it, saved only by the heroics of the driver, Gina (Diane Kruger). An illegal immigrant, she promptly vanishes from the scene, fearing deportation. Dr. Harris awakes from a short stay in Comatown, but on returning to his wife she claims not to know him, and there's also some other chump running around claiming to be Dr. Martin Harris.
Intrigue abounds. After a short period of questioning his own sanity, he tracks down a reticent Gina to help work out what's going on, at which point the assassins start showing up and it's clear that there's something serious going on. The rest of the film is a combination of desperate chasing and attempts by the dynamic duo, aided by their ex-Stasi private investigator sidekick to work out what's going on.
Those with a gift for understatement would perhaps say that credibility is not Unknown's strong suite. As I am hardly renowned for my delicate phrasings, I'll simply come out and say that Unknown has a stupendously unbelievable narrative from the outset, and once you learn the twist in the tale it actually becomes much less believable. This is something most sane people would deem impossible after the first half hour, so I suppose that's some sort of achievement.
I'll give it this: it's a stupid film, but it's closer to being entertainingly stupid than irritatingly stupid. Actually, that's probably a judgement based entirely on Liam Neeson, who again manages to elevate pretty dumb source material into something with a little more gravitas and substance by dint of his personality and presence alone.
It's helped by the pacing of the piece. While the events might not make a great deal of sense when thought about in isolation, they're thrown at you thickly and quickly enough that you probably won't have enough time to realise quite how silly most of them are until you're well clear of the cinema. Which doesn't sound like praise, I realise now I come to write it, but it was meant as such.
Bruno Ganz leverages his rep as world's most resubtitled Nazi on Youtube in his role as the refreshingly unrepentant ex-Stasi turned private eye, giving a stand-out supporting role. Frank Langella is perhaps in danger of becoming typecast as 'mysterious, creepy evildo-er', but he plays the part very well.
Unknown also presents a logical extension of the percussive amnesia cure. If you've lost a small amount of your memory through a bump on the head, another bump on the head, in Movieville at least, will cure you. If your memory has become so corrupted you think you're someone else, it takes a collapsing hotel floor swinging into your face to bring your memories back, at which point you will know kung-fu and in no way have been inconvenienced by a hotel floor collapsing into your face.
Unknown presents an enjoyable enough watch, and is a competent little thriller that's certainly a decent option when it shows up on the telly, but I can't really recommend that anyone make heroic efforts to see it. Fittingly, it's just too forgettable.
Diane Kruger (Gina)
January Jones (Elizabeth "Liz" Harris)
Aidan Quinn (Martin B.)
Frank Langella (Professor Rodney Cole)
Bruno Ganz (Ernst Jurgen)
Sebastian Koch (Professor Bressler)