Unknown (2011 film)

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Not to be confused with Unknown (2006 film).
Unknown Poster.jpg
US theatrical release poster
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Produced by
Written by
  • Oliver Butcher
  • Stephen Cornwell
Based on Out of My Head 
by Didier Van Cauwelaert
Music by
Cinematography Flavio Labiano
Edited by Timothy Alverson
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • 16 February 2011 (2011-02-16) (Westwood premiere)
Running time
113 minutes
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • German
Budget $30[1]–40[2] million
Box office $136,123,083[3]

Unknown is a 2011 British-German-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 and 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 of 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 film. 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.


Friedrichstraße, Berlin, is the scene of a car chase
Oberbaumbrücke, from which the taxi plunges into the river

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 Hauptbahnhof, 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]


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 55% of 191 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 5.8/10. The site's consensus reads: "Liam Neeson elevates the proceedings considerably, but Unknown is ultimately too derivative – and implausible – to take advantage of its intriguing premise."[11] Metacritic gives the film a 56/100 based on 38 reviews.[12] Richard Roeper gave the film a B+ and wrote, "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."[this quote needs a citation] Justin Chang of Variety called it "an emotionally and psychologically threadbare exercise".[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[edit]

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 France with mysteriously good fighting skills, who gets help from a young, "cash-strapped" local woman.[6][18][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.[15][16][18][22]


  1. ^ Unknown at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  2. ^ a b 40 million according to Andrew Rona at Berlinale press conference, Friday 18 February 2011. See "Video Press Conference" at Berlinale web site after 30 minutes. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  3. ^ Unknown at The Numbers. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  4. ^ Studio Babelsberg press release 18 January 2011: European premiere for Studio Babelsberg co-production Unknown at the 2011 Berlinale Retrieved 2013-04-08
  5. ^ a b "Unknown White Male Starts Principal Photography". MovieWeb.com. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  6. ^ a b Dargis, Manohla (2011-02-17). "Me, My Doppelgänger and a Dunk in the River". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  7. ^ "Unknown Shooting in Berlin". EmanuelLevy.com. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  8. ^ Fritz, Ben; Kaufman, Amy (17 February 2011). "Movie Projector: 'I Am Number Four' to be No. 1 at holiday weekend box office [Updated]". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  9. ^ "Unknown Identity". MediaBiz.de. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  10. ^ "The 'Competition' of the 61st Berlinale". Berlinale.de. 2011-01-18. Retrieved 2011-01-19. [dead link]
  11. ^ "Unknown". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  12. ^ "Unknown". Metacritic. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  13. ^ "Unknown". Variety. 15 February 2011.
  14. ^ "'Unknown' Helps French Cinema Have an Identity Abroad in 2011". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012-02-07.
  15. ^ a b The great ‘Unknown’, Lou Lumenick, New York Post, 18 February 2011
  16. ^ a b Unknown review, Roger Ebert, 16 February 2011
  17. ^ UNKNOWN: Ford’s "Frantic" ala "Taken II", Craig D. Reid
  18. ^ a b Neeson wakes up 'Unknown', Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 18 February 2011
  19. ^ a b 'Unknown': A Botanist (Or Is He?), Lost In Thickets, Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR, 18 February 2011
  20. ^ Unknown: Mistaken identity and ‘Taken’ similarity, Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe, 18 February 2011
  21. ^ Unknown review, Andrew Pragasam, The Spinning Image
  22. ^ 'Unknown' review: Liam Neeson brings gravitas to pulpy Alfred Hithcock-style action thriller, Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News, 17 February 2011

External links[edit]