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Know This: Unknown Lacks Any Real Thrills

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • Updated May 07, 2013
Know This: <i>Unknown</i> Lacks Any Real Thrills

DVD Release Date: June 21, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: February 18, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence and action and brief sexual content)
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Drama
Run Time: 113 min.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Actors: Liam Neeson, January Jones, Diane Kruger, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella, Bruno Ganz

Save for the latest chapters in, say, the Harry Potter or Twilight franchise, sometimes it's virtually impossible to predict what flicks will resonate with the movie-going public.

Case in point: 2009's surprise hit, Taken, a movie with so many plot holes and maddening contrivances that it was downright laughable. It's not that Liam Neeson isn't an appealing leading man, mind you. It's just difficult believing that someone with such a genial demeanor and no discernable muscle tone can be such a bad guy on command, something that Taken unfortunately shares in common with Neeson's latest starring turn in Unknown.

Truth be told, Unknown is a thriller with no actual thrills—or anything meaningful at stake. As bad as it was, even Taken had a somewhat noble cause, namely the rescue of a loving father's missing daughter who'd been taken into sexual slavery.

Even if mindless entertainment is all you're seeking, though, Unknown is just as much of a letdown. Unlike the twisty, thrill-a-minute journey that made the Bourne trilogy such a crowd-pleaser, Unknown lifts the missing identity premise but doesn't bother giving the audience a thrilling protagonist or at the very least, a great car chase scene.

In fact, things get off on the wrong foot almost immediately, thanks to the casting of January Jones as Neeson's movie wife, Liz. See, she may be styled in the manner of Grace Kelly, but the Mad Men star's stunning lack of facial expressions suggests someone else altogether, Barbie, perhaps? For whatever reason, this pair has absolutely no chemistry, so when Martin and Liz are separated only a few minutes after checking into a posh Berlin hotel, you almost forget that Martin was ever married in the first place.

As it turns out, Martin couldn't hang out with his wifey for long anyway because he forgot an important briefcase that he needs for the biotech summit he's speaking at. So before settling in for the afternoon, he immediately hails a cab without letting Liz know where he's going or why. And before long, he's unexpectedly fighting for his life when the car that an attractive illegal immigrant named Gina was driving (Diane Kruger) crashes into the river.

Thankfully for Martin, Gina's got some great survival instincts. After successfully freeing herself from her own watery demise, she, at all of 110 pounds, breaks the cab's back windows open with a sturdy metal pipe conveniently available in the backseat and swims Martin to the surface, just in time for a medical squad to take over.

Unfortunately, Martin is still stuck in a coma when he arrives at a nearby hospital, and four days later when he wakes up, he's more than a little confused. Not only is he unable to recall much about the accident itself, but he's unsure of why his wife wouldn't be by his side. When a TV news program playing in the background happens to mention the scientific convention he was supposed to be at, though, his memory makes a timely recovery.

Deciding to head back to the hotel in search of his wife's whereabouts (apparently, a phone call simply won't do), Martin promptly asks his doctor for a discharge. And for reasons that I'm guessing the majority of medical community would frown upon, given that Martin was just, oh, unconscious for four days, the doctor lets him go with only minimal hesitation.

If Unknown's unbelievable set-up wasn't already mind-boggling enough, the suspend-your-disbelief moments only continue when Martin eventually spots his wife back at the hotel with a man (Aidan Quinn) who says he's, well, him. In fact, when Martin tries to engage Liz in conversation, she rebuffs him completely, claiming she's never, ever seen him before.

So who—if anyone—is the real Martin, and should you care? Well, that depends on your tolerance for a script where little, if anything, rings true. Apparently deciding to throw all caution to the wind, the film's cobbled-together plot gets even sillier once the hit men show up.

Far more interested in trying to surprise the audience with random character revelations far too late in the game than providing any connection with Martin or his plight, there's definitely one thing we know for sure when watching Unknown—namely that escapist entertainment without the benefit of a great story rarely satisfies. But then again, if Taken ruled the box office just two years ago, then it's quite possible that Unknown could now. It's really anybody's guess, after all.


  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking and cigarette smoking shown. Plus, one character intentionally overdoses on cyanide.
  • Language/Profanity: Sh--, bit--, hel- and as- are all used on a couple of instances. God's name is also taken in vain several times, once paired with da--. 
  • Sex/Nudity: Martin has a couple of flashbacks of having sex with Liz in the shower (we only see them from the shoulders up). Martin also walks by a sex club in one scene. And when he and Gina are talking in her apartment, they hear her noisy neighbors in the throes of lovemaking.
  • Violence: Martin nearly dies from when the taxi he's riding in plunges into the river. Later, he's beaten, shocked and smashed through furniture and nearby mirrors by the thugs who are following him. Martin isn't afraid to fight back, however, and is successful in stabbing a man in the throat with a chunk of glass and beating one guy with a crowbar. There are also injury-causing, intense car chases and a bomb that ends more lives. A few innocent characters are the inevitable collateral damage of that plot to take Martin down.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.