Mechanically, Unknown, the new picture from Jaume Collet-Serra, isn’t all that different than midforties Hollywood cloak-and-dagger thrillers or later Cold War espionage actioners.
Alert to its own recycling and indebtedness to directors like Fritz Lang, Roman Polanski, and John Frankenheimer, Unknown wisely features a character who’s a throwback to subterfuge of yore—Bruno Ganz’s Jürgen, formerly of East Germany’s Stasi unit in “the old days.” He’s the only authority figure willing to assist our hero, Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), who wakes from a coma to a wife who claims not to know him and a phalanx of ominous agents on his tail. Employing distinguished actors to elevate otherwise frivolous pap is nothing new, but here the addition of Ganz accomplishes just that. Between hacking coughs and ill-advised sips of brandy, Jürgen quips cryptically (“the Germans are experts at forgetting”) and dials up old Stasi colleagues to help figure out Martin’s dilemma, mostly as a diversion from boredom and illness. The movie’s best scene is an actorly duet between Ganz and late arrival Frank Langella that bracingly acknowledges past glories (the Langella character’s grandson, he notes, loves the old Cold War stuff) and their mutual fleeting mortality.Read Justin Stewart’s review of Unknown.