Film Review: Unknown

Want to see Liam Neeson eating a currywurst? A car chase down Friedrichstrasse (which, in typical Berlin fashion, involves a lorry full of beer)? A bomb go off in the Hotel Adlon? It’s always fun to see an action thriller set in the place you live…

Unknown film
Unknown: A taxi flies off the Oberbaumbrueke in Berlin

Neeson plays Martin Harris, who arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones) for a biotechnology summit. At the hotel, he realises that he has left his briefcase at the airport and jumps into a taxi, driven by Bosnian immigrant Gina (Diane Kruger), to retrieve it. The taxi is involved in an accident, careers off the Oberbaumbrücke, and lands him in a coma for four days.

At this point, the mystery, which has so far concerned a friendly customs officer (when have you ever been welcomed to Berlin?!) and a nonsensical taxi route from Tegel Airport to Hotel Adlon, thickens. He wakes up to find that his wife no longer recognises him, and that another guy claiming to be Dr Martin Harris has replaced him.

The plot is gripping, almost to the end, when it becomes predictable and cheesy.  Although there have been a number of ‘I’ve lost my identity’ action thrillers (e.g. Bourne), the genre is kept fresh in a number of ways; the relationship between the protagonist and his female counterpart (Gina is always saving Martin), the not-so-black-and-white portrayal of the good guys and bad guys (an example is the brilliantly portrayed character of Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), a former Stasi officer whose help Martin enlists to figure out what the hell is going on), and the location.

Berlin is the perfect setting for a film concerned with identity, memory and harsh pasts.  Not Berlin in the summer of course, when everyone is lounging around drinking beer, but Berlin in the winter, when the frozen streets are tense with cold, covered in forgetful snow (yes, Berlin in the winter always reminds me of Eliot). If you live here you’ll probably appreciate this above the adreneline-pumped action. Watch the trailer on YouTube.

And if you’re into film,  Berlin Film Central is a new site which publishes film reviews, news about the film industry in Berlin and once in a while, through the BFC Channel, videocasts with interviews with filmmakers and personalities involved in the film industry in the city.

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