Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Unknown (2011; dir. Jaume Collet-Serra) is an adult thriller in which a man awakens from a coma and discovers that everything he believed about his life is false. Although there are pretensions here of a drama about identity, essentially this is a mystery-espionage thriller whose hero, played by Liam Neeson, tries to discover who he really is. Car chases, gunfire, fights, bomb blasts and so on ensue. There are some significant non sequiturs in this film, but in general it moves inexorably forward in a way that engages the viewer to the end.

In many of John LeCarre’s novels the Cold War era of U. S./British relations with the Soviet Union provides the context for his stories. In Unknown we have a post-collapse context. East Germany is no longer separate from West Germany. The Wall is down. The Soviet Union has collapsed, and the old espionage networks no longer exist. Espionage and intrigue in Unknown focus on corporate interests. A man who has a product to sell that may revolutionize the food industry is marked for murder by corporate interests that see him as a threat . The film is aware of this post-collapse context. Two secondary characters are former members of Cold War espionage units—one of the secret East German Stasi, the other of the KGB. Neither survives the film.

Despite the adult (by which I mean “mature”) tone of this film (a modern-day take on a lesser Hitchcock), it is essentially formulaic, as the final scene in which the older man who gets the much younger attractive girl makes clear.

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