Unknown is as schizophrenic and lopsided as its main character Martin Harris (Liam Nielsen) is a character. You see Martin Harris is not really Martin Harris, but we have to call him Martin Harris because we never learn what his name is when he is not Martin Harris. But there is another Martin Harris who claims to be the real Martin Harris but is not Martin Harris. Who is the real Martin Harris?
May the real Martin Harris please stand up? I repeat; may the real Martin Harris please stand up? We are going to have a problem here, because this movie makes no sense.
For a thriller to work it needs to be faithful to its own internal logic. This way, when the pay off arrives the film’s credibility is not thrown of balance. Otherwise the audience will refuse to believe in the payoff. The importance of a thriller having a firm stance on its logic increases exponentially with the number of turns it has before the final pay off. Most films can only handle one or two. Unknown tries to juggle three or four and drops the ball in at least two of them.
First when Martin Harris forgets his suitcase in the airport. If this was indeed an accident, then how could the villains reacted fast enough to stage an accident and implant the fake Martin Harris? And if he spent four days in a coma, how come a worldwide organization with interest in him never looked him up while he was unconscious? And how come someone who knew he wasn’t Martin Harris told him he was? These are just a few of many holes that make absolutely no sense and distract you, the audience, from being fully immersed and enjoying the film.
But despite the weakness of the script everyone seems to be doing their best to work with what they have. The direction is elegant enough that you know at all times what is happening during the action sequences. There are no prolonged car-chases that would further remove the audience from what remains of the film’s credibility. However the film also climaxes with a knife fight in a mirrored hall of a five star hotel. A little bit pretentious for the austerity through out the rest of the movie. The film is also wonderfully photographed in location. And Berlin provides a beautiful backdrop. And despite the cheesy dialogue the acting is rather good.
Liam Nielsen is the only person that could bring some credibility to the role of Martin Harris; on anyone else’s hands this would have been a cartoon. The film also has Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in The Downfall, on its service in the role of Jürgen an ex-Stasi officer who Martin Harris recruits as a sort of privet eye. Jürgen is one of those old school characters that are still willing to die an honorable death; we don’t see the likes of them too often anymore. Diane Kruger acts opposite to Nielsen in the role of Mina, who is mostly there to serve as a romantic interest when all else seems lost and to get jealous when Martin Harris kisses his maybe-fake wife (January Jones). How lucky was Martin Harris that the one taxi he happened to be in during the accident was driven by the one hot taxi Bosnian immigrant that is willing to help him. Was this the product of divine intervention? Or will she turn on him if there ever is a sequel. Let’s hope it ends here. This movie could not survive one more twist.