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Unknown (2011 film)

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Title: Unknown (2011 film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Spy film, Liam Neeson, Thriller (genre), Didier Van Cauwelaert, Diane Kruger, Joel Silver, Frank Langella, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Unshō Ishizuka
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Unknown (2011 film)

Not to be confused with Unknown (2006 film).

File:Unknown Poster.jpg
US theatrical release poster
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Produced by Joel Silver
Leonard Goldberg
Andrew Rona
Screenplay by Oliver Butcher
Stephen Cornwell
Based on Out of My Head 
by Didier Van Cauwelaert
Starring Liam Neeson
Diane Kruger
January Jones
Aidan Quinn
Frank Langella
Music by John Ottman
Alexander Rudd
Cinematography Flavio Labiano
Editing by Timothy Alverson
Studio Dark Castle Entertainment
Distributed by Warner Bros. (US)
Optimum Releasing (UK)
Kinowelt (Germany)
StudioCanal (France)
Release date(s)
Running time 113 minutes
Country Germany
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $30[1]-40[2] million
Box office $136,123,083[3]

Unknown is a 2011 German-British-French[4] psychological thriller film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, and Frank Langella.[5] The film is based on the 2003 French novel published in English as Out of My Head, by Didier Van Cauwelaert.[6]


Dr. Martin Harris and his wife Liz arrive in Berlin for a biotechnology summit. However, upon arriving at Hotel Adlon, Martin realizes his briefcase was left at the airport. He takes a taxicab driven by a woman named Gina, but on the way to the airport, the cab crashes off a bridge into the river, knocking Martin unconscious on impact. Gina saves him from drowning, then flees the scene to avoid police because she is an illegal immigrant from Bosnia & Herzegovina. On Thanksgiving day, Martin regains consciousness at the hospital after being in a coma for four days.

Martin returns to his hotel and discovers another man with his wife, who claims she does not know him. He attempts to contact his old colleague, Prof. Rodney Cole, but Cole is unavailable due to Thanksgiving in the U.S. Martin then heads to the office of Prof. Leo Bressler, whom he is scheduled to meet that day. However, he sees the impostor, "Martin B", already in a meeting with Bressler. As Martin attempts to prove his identity, Martin B shows him his ID and family photo — both of which have Martin's name with his face replaced by the impostor's. Overwhelmed by the identity crisis, Martin falls unconscious, then finds himself back at the hospital. Smith, an assassin sent to target Martin, kills Nurse Gretchen Erfurt, but Martin escapes. Aboard a train, Martin tries to note down his schedule for the next day from memory. He then seeks help from Nurse Erfurt's friend, private investigator and former Stasi agent Ernst Jürgen. Martin's only clues are his father's book on botany and Gina, who now works at a diner after being fired from the taxicab company since the crash. While Martin attempts to persuade Gina to help him, Jürgen digs up information related to Martin and the biotechnology summit. He discovers the summit will be attended by Prince Shada of Saudi Arabia, who is funding a secret project headed by Bressler. Prince Shada has survived numerous assassination attempts by extremists in his own country, and Jürgen suspects that Martin's identity theft may be part of another attempt to take the Prince's life.

Meanwhile, Smith and another assassin, Jones, attempt to eliminate Martin and Gina, but the couple escape after a fight at her apartment in which Gina kills Smith. Martin looks at his book and sees a set of numbers written by his spouse. The numbers correspond to words found on specific pages of the book, which appear as secret codes. Using his schedule, Martin knows Martin B's engagements and confronts Liz when alone, who tells him that he left his briefcase at the airport. Meanwhile, Jürgen receives Cole at his office and deduces that Cole used to be a member of a legendary secret squad of mercenaries known as "Section 15" and is a potent killer. Realizing Cole is there to kill him and he has no way of escaping, Jürgen commits suicide by drinking cyanide-laced coffee in order to protect Martin.

After retrieving his briefcase, Martin parts ways with Gina. When she sees him kidnapped by Cole and Jones, She steals a taxicab and chases after Cole's van. Martin wakes up in a car park and is told by Cole that Martin Harris is a cover name and that he, Liz and Martin B are assassins sent to target the summit. Because he injured his head during the car crash, his memory was altered and he believed his fake Martin Harris persona was his own identity. Gina rushes in and stops Jones from killing Martin as Cole hides in the van. A brief fight between Jones and Gina ends when Gina drives her car into Jones and crushes him against the rear of Cole's van. Gina rams her car into the van and sends it plummeting out the car park with Cole still inside, killing him. Martin finds a hidden compartment in his briefcase containing two Canadian passports, and remembers that he and Liz were in Berlin three months prior to plant a bomb in the suite that is to be occupied by Prince Shada for the summit.

Now aware of his own role in the assassination plot, Martin seeks to redeem himself by thwarting the assassination and heads for the hotel with Gina. Security immediately arrests them, but Martin convinces them of his presence in the hotel three months earlier. He then realizes that Prince Shada is not the target, but Bressler, who has developed a genetically modified breed of corn capable of surviving harsh climates, easing the world's food supply problem. With Bressler's death and the theft of his research, billions of dollars would fall into the wrong hands. Liz uses her own copy of the book's secret codes to remotely access Bressler's laptop and steal the data. After being convinced of the bomb's presence, security evacuates the hotel. Seeing their assassination attempt has been foiled, Liz tries to disarm the bomb but cannot reach the deactivation button and is killed when a section of the hotel is blown up. Martin kills Martin B, the last remaining assassin, before the latter can murder Bressler. Bressler announces that he is giving his project to the world for free, while Martin and Gina board a train with new passports and identities.


Many German actors were cast for the movie. Bock had previously starred in Inglourious Basterds (which also starred Diane Kruger) and The White Ribbon. Other cast includes Adnan Maral as a Turkish taxi driver and Petra Schmidt-Schaller as an immigration officer. Kruger herself is also German, despite playing a non-German character.


Principal photography took place in early February 2010 in Berlin, Germany, and in the Studio Babelsberg film studios.[5] The bridge the taxi plunges from is the Oberbaumbrücke. The Friedrichstraße was blocked for several nights for the shooting of a car chase. Some of the shooting was done in the Hotel Adlon. Locations include the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin Central Station, Berlin Friedrichstraße station, Pariser Platz, Museum Island, the Oranienburger Straße in Berlin, and the Leipzig/Halle Airport.[7] According to Andrew Rona, the budget was $40 million.[2] Producer Joel Silver's US company Dark Castle Entertainment contributed $30 million.[8] German public film funds supported the production with €4.65 million (more than $6 million).[9] The working title was Unknown White Male.


Unknown was screened out of competition at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival.[10]


The film received mixed reviews, scoring 55 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 5.8/10 based on 184 reviews.[11] Metacritic gives the film a 56/100 based on 38 reviews.[12] Some critics praise the unique premise of the film and Neeson in the lead role. Richard Roeper gave the film a B+, reflecting that "At times, Unknown stretches plausibility to the near breaking point, but it's so well paced and the performances are so strong and most of the questions are ultimately answered. This is a very solid thriller." The Rotten Tomatoes consensus is: "Liam Neeson elevates the proceedings considerably, but Unknown is ultimately too derivative – and implausible – to take advantage of its intriguing premise".[11] Variety had a similar opinion.[13] Overall, Unknown was a strong box office hit and scored a number one opening at its first week of release. 13.2 million tickets were sold in 29 territories.[14]

Similarities to previous films

Some reviewers have noted the similarity of Unknown to previous thriller films, including the following:

  • Mirage (1965) - like Unknown, Mirage is about a man who has amnesia after a near-fatal accident, who is pursued by henchmen as he tries to piece together his former life.[15]
  • Frantic (1988) - like Unknown, Frantic is about an American man who travels to Europe with his wife for a conference, becomes separated from her, and gets caught up in an international plot, from which he escapes with help from a young, on-the-outs woman. There are other similarities, including an important briefcase left at the airport and a rooftop chase.[16][17]
  • The Bourne Identity (2002) - like Unknown, about an amnesiac American protagonist in Germany with mysteriously good fighting skills, who gets help from a young, "cash-strapped" local woman.[18][6][19]
  • Taken (2008) - another film starring Neeson, in which he plays an American in Europe in a single-minded pursuit of villains, using only his wits.[20]

The film has also been compared to other films in which the protagonist has his identity tampered with and becomes unsure as to who he is, including The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), Total Recall (1990) and Cypher (2002),[21] as well as to the 1995 TV series Nowhere Man.[19]

Unknown was also described by many reviewers as Hitchcockian.[22][15][16][18]


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Box Office Mojo
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • Metacritic
  • at The Numbers
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