Waking up one day to find that you’re a completely different person, is just the fantasy most people dream about at one time or another during a little wish fulfillment sleep. But for research scientist Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), his terrifying ordeal has just begun, in Spanish director Jaume Collet-Sera’s hallucinatory identity crisis thriller, Unknown.
Arriving in Berlin for an international biotechnology conference, Harris drops his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) off at the hotel while he hails a cab and dashes back to the airport to retrieve something he left behind. But following a crash that lands him in a canal, where he’s rescued by the undocumented Bosnian cab driver Gina (Diane Kruger) who then disappears, Harris ends up in a local hospital minus his papers and no reports from his wife or any other source, that he is a missing man.
And to further confound matters, when Harris is finally able to return to the hotel, his wife claims no knowledge of him, while another scientist (Aidan Quinn) steps forward insisting that he’s the real Dr. Harris. Eventually all sorts of menacing operatives are stalking the distraught man with intent to kill. And he dodges danger by tracking down the not exactly enthused Gina to hide out at her place, while at the same time hiring a kindly retired, though never less than supremely shrewd and devoted secret service operative (Bruno Ganz) from the former GDR, to do some quality surveillance in reverse on his homicidal stalkers.
While all these multiple machinations might sound a bit too convoluted for the movie’s own good, these audience-taunting twists and turns tend to make for hyper-heady suspense throughout. And including no less than three taxi chases; fleeing central Berlin by driving backwards without benefit of a license, German, American or otherwise; narrowly escaping death by downtown trolley; and a strategic musical detour for a little undercover clubbing on the side.
There’s also a sinister sidebar about a Saudi prince at the hotel who needs protecting because of his progressive sentiments – which couldn’t be more timely, what with current eruptions in Egypt. And big business agriculture conspiring to perpetuate world hunger, drought and pestilence.
Now, without giving too much away and as far fetched as some of these many plot strands may seem to be, there is quite a struggle going on right now in the real world, around what’s for dinner everywhere on the planet. And touching on ruthless agribusiness, genetically engineered food for profit, and how multinational corporations dominate and impoverish underdeveloped countries by pressuring them into single crop economies.
Which lends excellent additional food for thought to Unknown, while raising audience blood pressure as Liam Neeson tackles assassination amnesia. And even if thrillers like these always go to such elaborate lengths to do their dastardly deeds, when they can simply just be done with it and dispatch somebody directly to the afterlife.
Warner Bros Rated PG-13 3 stars