“Unknown,” stars everybody’s favorite “hang-dog” tough guy, Liam Neeson.  The film is contrived, silly and completely improbable…but I liked it.

If you have seen the trailer for “Unknown,” you know the basic set up.  Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, who has just arrived in Berlin to attend an important conference.  Soon after, his taxi crashes into the water and, four days later, he emerges from a coma.  Harris finds that his identity has been usurped.  Another man, claiming to be Harris, has taken his place at the conference, not to mention his hotel room, and even Harris’ own wife claims to not know who he is.

The film’s premise is Hitchcockian.  Understand, I am in no way comparing “Unknown” to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, in terms of quality.  I am merely pointing out that the film’s premise does have a familiar Hitchcock theme – that of a man put into a predicament, involving his identity, from which he must extract himself, usually with the help of an attractive blonde.

In Hitchcock’s “The Wrong Man” (1956) Henry Fonda’s character is accused of pulling a hold up.  He did not do it, but eye-witnesses positively identify him as the perpetrator.  His character then goes on a quest to prove his innosence.  While Fonda’s character has been saddled with the wrong identity (hence the title), Neeson’s character wants to find out who has taken over his identity and why?

In both films the men are in struggles to prove who they are.  Similar scenarios play out in Hitchcock’s “The Thirty Nine Steps” (1935), “Young and Innocent” (1937), “Saboteur” (1942) and “North By Northwest” (1959).

True to the Hitchcock template, Harris gets the help of an attractive blonde, Gina (Diane Kruger), the driver of the cab that crashed, setting off his predicament.  They must do things differently in Berlin.  I have never been driven by an attractive lady cab driver here in New York, or in any other city for that matter.  Only in the movies.

Anyway Gina and Harris have all sorts of adventures involving car chases, crashes, explosions and characters popping up to deliver blatant exposition so that the audience can keep everything straight.  Eventually all is revealed.

If you think about the screenplay of “Unknown” for five minutes, you will see it has more holes than the proverbial slice of Swiss cheese.  I found myself constantly pondering why certain characters and situations weren’t handled with solutions that, in retrospect, seemed obvious.  I’m willing to allow that that is part of the fun.  What worked for me is that “Unknown” seemed to revel in its improbabilities so thoroughly that I enjoyed it, despite, perhaps, knowing better.

Unknown, Director , 2011,

Warner Brothers,  113 minutes, rated PG-13


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on February 22, 2011, in New. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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