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
  • France
  • Germany
  • 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 action 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. Martin realizes he left his briefcase at the airport and takes a taxi to retrieve it. When they are involved in an accident, the driver, Gina, rescues him and flees the scene, as she is an illegal immigrant. Martin regains consciousness at a hospital after having been in a coma for four days.

When returns to the hotel, he discovers Liz with another man, and she claims to not know him. Martin contacts a colleague, Prof. Rodney Cole, but he is unavailable. Martin visits the office of Prof. Leo Bressler, whom he is scheduled to meet, but sees the impostor, "Martin B", already there. As Martin attempts to prove his identity, Martin B shows him his ID and family photo, both of which have the impostor's face. Overwhelmed by the identity crisis, Martin falls unconscious, then finds himself back at the hospital. Smith, an assassin sent to target Martin, kills a nurse, Gretchen Erfurt, but Martin escapes.

Aboard a train, Martin writes down his schedule for the next day by memory. He seeks help from 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 since the crash now works at a diner. While Martin persuades 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.

At Gina's apartment, Smith and another assassin, Jones, attack; the couple escapes after Gina kills Smith. In his book, Martin finds that Liz has written a series of numbers that correspond to words found specific pages. Using his schedule, Martin confronts Liz alone; she tell him he left his briefcase at the airport. Meanwhile, Jürgen receives Cole at his office and deduces that Cole is a former mercenary and potent killer. Realizing Cole is there to kill him and he has no way of escaping, Jürgen commits suicide 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 them. When Martin wakes, Cole says 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 runs over Jones before he can kill Martin, then rams Cole's van, killing him. After Martin finds a hidden compartment in his briefcase containing two Canadian passports, he remembers that he and Liz were in Berlin three months prior to plant a bomb in the suite to be occupied by Prince Shada.

Now aware of his own role in the assassination plot, Martin seeks to redeem himself by thwarting it. He heads for the hotel with Gina. Security immediately arrests them, but Martin convinces them of his presence in the hotel three months earlier. 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.

Martin suddenly realizes that Prince Shada is not the target, but Bressler, who has developed a genetically modified breed of corn capable of surviving harsh climates. With Bressler's death and the theft of his research, billions of dollars would fall into the wrong hands. Seeing their assassination attempt has been foiled, Liz dies attempting to disarm the bomb. 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.

Release and reception[edit]

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]


  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. ^ 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.

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