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The very best kind of thriller is one which gives you a life and death situation and a character drowning in a haze of lost memories. He's fighting for his life against shadowy kkillers he hasno beef with. He is protecting the one woman who has helped him --- a woman who is not his wife and who positively wants to be anywhere but in the presence of Our Hero. Even better is just one of many twists in character and plot leading the viewer to believe that Our Hero is anything but heroic.
Unknown kept us guessing right up until its big reveal. It's packed with action and car chases and despicable characters and shady heroes and it just doesn't stop until it's over. But what it's really about is not going to be found anywhere in the review that follows . . .
IN SHORT: The very best kind of life and death thriller you'll see on the big screen. [Rated . minutes]
When we first meet Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) it is apparent that they are a loving and long-term happily married couple. Arriving in Berlin, he to make some kind of "presentation" to a convention of agricultural botanists. Local customs agents react with utter boredom and Liz teases Martin about it. At their local hotel Martin panics when he realizes that one of his bags has been left behind at the airport. Must've been the one with the presentation in it . . . Martin grabs a cab back to the airport and visualizes his career going down the tubes while he sweats puddles in the back seat. The cab doesn't make it to the airport.
Four Days Later, Martin awakes in hospital. In a fog due to a head injury -- y'all will have seen what happened to the cab. He was lucky the driver managed to save him -- Martin signs himself out against doctors advice, determined to a) thank Gina the cab driver (Diane Kruger) and b) reassure his wife that her man is A-OK. Not necessarily in that order. Finding the wife and Convention is easy. Said event is hosting a Saudi Prince (Mido Hamada) and a Nobel laureate scientist (Sebastian Koch) among its honored guests and news coverage of the event is blanketing the airwaves. What surprises Martin is he finds his wife . . . on the arm of her husband, Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn).
So, here's the real mystery: head injuries do cause memory loss. We speak from experience. While they may also cause some psychological or emotional changes (ditto those) we've never heard of a case where a "real" person went through that kind of trauma and came out as an entirely different person. So, as a viewer, we're inclined to believe that Liam Neeson is portraying the "real" deal.
But Neeson's character isn't so sure. He calls the only phone numbers he can remember of friends back in the States. He returns to the hospital for help. A nurse there had given him the number of an ex-East German Secret Police (formerly known as thugs), Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz) , that could help negotiate things in Germany and maybe find answers. The doctors put him in an MRI to check his brain.
Then two men show up and start killing everything in sight. So does one of those friends he called, back in the states. Martin's oldest friend, Rodney Cole (Frank Langella). Those are the pieces in play and everything else that follows becomes the best movie ride we've had in weeks.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Unknown, he would have paid . . .
We walked out of our screening muttering the same word over and over again: "Terrific."
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