Film: Unknown (2011)

Unknown is a conspiracy action-thriller film released in 2011 and starring Liam Neeson, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Neeson plays botanist Dr Martin Harris, who brings his wife along to attend a biotechnology conference in Berlin. However, he gets into a car accident while riding the taxi back to the airport to pick up luggage he left behind. When he awakes in hospital, he leaves to find his wife. However, Liz denies knowing who Martin is... and another man is wearing Martin's name tag and claiming to be him is standing right next to her - and she acknowledges "Martin B" as the real deal. In a foreign land for the first time, pursued by mysterious terrorists and with nobody to trust, Harris must get all the help he can find, including from Gina (Diane Kruger) the driver of the cab that plunged into the river and Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), a former Stasi agent-turned private investigator.

The film not only has a Twist Ending, it has twist beginnings, twist middles and twist three-quarters - hence the large amount of marked spoilers below.

Not to be confused with the 2006 James Caviezel movie.

This film contains examples of:

  • Arab Oil Sheikh: Prince Shada is the sponsor of the biotechnology conference, and is a rich, adventerous and idealistic guy who wants to support genetically engineering food to help feed the world's growing numbers of starving people.
  • Artistic License – History: As explained here, what Jürgen stated about the Stasi's methods for distinguishing a liar from a truthteller is the opposite of the Stasi's real-life interpretation: a liar has a pre-programmed version of facts which is difficult to deviate from, while an innocent person will rephrase and reformulate.
  • Badass Bystander: This movie may be full of highly-trained international assassins, but the person with the highest on-screen kill count is still Gina the cab driver-turned-waitress.
  • Bathroom Break-Out: The assassins arrive to kill Martin as he is taking a shower, and he escapes onto the roof (sorry ladies, he's wearing a bathrobe).
  • Becoming the Mask: At the end of the film, it is revealed that Martin Harris doesn't really exist, and that "he" was merely a cover story manufactured by a shadowy assassination organization. The other man whom Martin sees taking his place after the accident is actually "Martin"'s "replacement". Martin began to believe that he was the identity of his cover story after suffering head trauma during the car crash.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Jürgen, though the threat of betraying contacts might also have played a part.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Gina does it twice, as Hoist by His Own Petard and Car Fu explain.
  • The Book Cipher: Prof. Bressler's passwords are obscured by an Ottendorf cipher.
  • Car Fu: Gina does this with her taxi when Martin is captured and is going to be killed by the terrorist agent and the agent's boss, Martin's employer Rodney Cole.
  • Casting Gag: Neeson and Quinn played best friends in Michael Collins.
  • Cool Old Guy: Jürgen.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover, as well as a poster for the movie, show Liam Neeson with a gun in his hand. Never, in the whole movie, does he hold a gun.
  • Cyanide Pill: When Professor Cole goes to see Jürgen, Jürgen empties a sachet of cyanide into his tea and drinks it when he realizes that Cole is not all he seems, and to keep Martin safe.
  • Deadly Road Trip: Being in Berlin, there's no family or friends to vouch for Liam Neeson.
  • Dead Star Walking: See above. Both veteran actors Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella portray characters who die shortly after they are introduced.
    • Though Ganz lasts for a significant fraction. The other, not so much.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Gina the taxi driver, but only when she really needs to.
  • Dull Surprise: January Jones as Liz, all the time. The audience is meant to doubt her allegiance to good or evil. She's in on it.
  • Flashback Effects: Probably overused, including epileptic editing, sepia-tone and dutch tilts.
  • Follow the Leader: The taxi chases, amnesia, European accomplice and the "I'm an assassin" twist make it look like the film was cribbing a lot of notes from The Bourne Identity.
  • Former Regime Personnel: Jürgen.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: The main assassin, who is bespectacled.
  • Gambit Roulette: The villains' plan depends on Professor Bressler binging a laptop with some very secret and highly important files in it to a party for no good reason, as well as said extremely important files having no backups at all. And these villains are supposed to be highly experienced professionals...
  • Government Conspiracy: A good deal of hard work went into "erasing" Martin Harris after his accident.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: An assassin tries to inject something in Gina... and she ends up doing it on him instead as he attacks Martin.
    • Martin does this at the end, where he ends up preventing a heist that he planned for months, loses millions he could have gained from selling information and ends up killing his associates simply because he suffered a head injury.
      • Ironically, the assassin conspiracy hoisted themselves up first. Had they not come after Liam Neeson in the hospital, when he was completely confused and starting to believe the head trauma had made him go mad, he likely would have been disoriented and under medical observation long enough for the plan to go off without a hitch. They could have also simply reinvented him as someone who might plausibly have known the fake Martin (who tragically died in the blast,) and set him up in a nice, no-memory retirement. Instead they tried to kill him, setting him on an epic quest to find out who he really was.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: The assassins' goal is to prevent the open-source release of a new variety of corn on behalf of agribusiness giants.
  • Insistent Terminology: The fact that Harris would always add "doctor" before his name made him seem really insecure. Might be Fridge Brilliance in light of The Reveal, since Neeson's character learned everything about his persona through pure memorization, and for the reasons explained in the Artistic License – History entry, that may have made him more comfortable repeating the phrase the way he absorbed it.
    • Played straight to the extent that a blow to the head effects memory and another one restores it in somewhat contrived fashion.
  • Is This a Joke?: Martin says it quite early.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: Abduct Harris and hold him in a room until the assassination attempt is finished. Or even make peaceful contact with him, explain what happened and attempt to integrate him back into the terrorist cell.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Invoked when Martin bangs his head on the taxi window and wakes up in the hospital. The entire movie seems to play this trope straight right up until The Reveal where it is revealed that the whole movie actually subverted it to hell and back. See also: Becoming the Mask
  • Magic Countdown: The bundle of plastic explosives planted in the hotel suite to kill Professor Bressler has a digital readout attached, even though it is planted inside the wall where it can't be seen. Liz tries to disarm the bomb, and it looks like she might do it, but is a couple of seconds late as it explodes and kills her, atomizing her and taking out a large chunk of the Adlon Hotel.
  • Monumental Damage: As mentioned above, the Adlon Hotel via the bomb hidden in one of its suites.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Liam Neeson obviously. The man still has the looks, the charm, and when he starts being tough and manly, the ladies go Squee!!!
  • Murder, Inc.: Section 15, Martin's employer, is one of these and will kill just about anyone for the right price.
  • Neck Snap: The assassin does this to his first onscreen kill, Martin's nurse at the hospital.
  • Oh, Crap:
    • Martin practically wears this expression permanently throughout the whole film.
    • Also, Herr Strauss, after seeing that Martin was indeed at the hotel three month ago.
    • Don't forget Liz's face when the bomb's timer runs out.
  • Once More with Clarity: Martin often has flashbacks of having a picture taken with his wife while on their honeymoon, after she gave him the watch. Later, it is revealed that this was a posed studio shoot and that Martin and his "wife" are merely terrorist agents.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: "I didn't forget everything! I remember how to kill you, asshole!"
  • Properly Paranoid: Prof. Bressler is taking his laptop to one of the conference receptions. When he has to leave it at the wardrobe, he is feeling quite uneasy about this, bearing to let it hang there unattended only for a few minutes. What he doesn't suspect though is that the important data on it gets stolen via advanced spy technology rather than outright physical theft.
  • Pursued Protagonist: The film is almost a Genre Throwback to the action-thrillers of the 80s-90s that featured Harrison Ford running away from his pursuers, such as The Fugitive.
  • Revealing Coverup: The plan of the bad guys would have gone a lot smoother if they hadn't been so intent on killing Harris. At one point, Harris is even ready to give up, convinced he must be crazy... then the assassins try to kill him and confirm all his suspicions.
  • Ripped from the Phone Book: Harris does this at one point.
  • Shoot the Dog: The first kill that we see onscreen is performed by the assassin when he goes to the hospital. He brutally breaks the neck of the nurse who had earlier given Martin the number of Jürgen, saying that he could help him.
  • Shower Scene: Martin has foggy flashbacks of making love to his wife in the shower. We only see their heads and shoulders, and besides showing off January Jones' perfect body and nice O-face, this is one of many flashbacks that may clue the viewer in to the truth of the matter - while designed to mislead instead. Clever.
  • Significant Sketchbook: Gina has one.
  • Smug Snake: Martin B and arguably also Liz who doesn't do much sneering but is definitely overconfident.
  • Speak In Unison: The two Martin Harrises find themselves in a Spot the Imposter situation, start to reiterate private information about Martin Harris, and end up doing so in unison. In the end it makes perfect sense: Both of them are fakes and have rehearsed all the personal facts about Martin Harris in exactly the same way.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Martin Harris was an assassin.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Liz. Having her face linked to the explosion and destroying her cover might have been bad for her but presumably not as bad as being blown up.
  • Villain Ball: The bad guys replaced their missing comrade a day or two after he disappeared, made no attempt to help him, and began killing everyone around him. They probably would have succeeded if they had made some effort to find him after he disappeared, or even stuck with their plan, backup included, and simply ignored Martin.
  • Wham Episode: Several twist moments, the first of which being Liz denying ever knowing Martin, and things continue to go "wham!" from there.
  • Worthy Opponent: Jürgen for Cole.
  • X Meets Y: Nowhere Man meets The Bourne Identity meets Total Recall (1990). Or Flightplan tries to meet Bourne with a sprinkle of Salt, but they miss each other by seconds.

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