Unknown (2011 film)

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Unknown Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJaume Collet-Serra
Produced by
Written by
  • Oliver Butcher
  • Stephen Cornwell
Based onOut of My Head
by Didier Van Cauwelaert
Music by
CinematographyFlavio Labiano
Edited byTimothy Alverson
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures[1]
Release date
  • February 16, 2011 (2011-02-16) (Westwood)
  • February 18, 2011 (2011-02-18) (United States)
  • March 2, 2011 (2011-03-02) (France)
  • March 3, 2011 (2011-03-03) (Germany)
  • March 4, 2011 (2011-03-04) (United Kingdom)
Running time
113 minutes
Budget$30[3]–40[4] million
Box office$136.1 million[5]

Unknown is a 2011 action thriller film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, and Frank Langella.[6] The film is based on the 2003 French novel published in English as Out of My Head, by Didier Van Cauwelaert;[7] the narrative centers around a professor who wakes up from a four-day long coma and sets out to prove his identity after no one recognizes him, including his own wife, and another man claims to be him.

Released in the United States on February 18, 2011, the film received mixed reviews from critics and grossed $136 million against its $30 million budget.


Dr. Martin Harris and his wife Liz arrive in Berlin for a biotechnology summit. At their hotel, as Liz goes to check in, Harris realizes he left his briefcase at the airport and takes a taxi to retrieve it (without telling Liz); the taxi is involved in an accident and crashes into the Spree, knocking him unconscious. The driver rescues him but flees the scene. Harris regains consciousness at a hospital and learns he has been in a coma for four days.

Desperate to find his wife, who he realizes doesn't know what happened to him, Harris returns to the hotel. There he discovers Liz with another man who she says is her husband and declares she does not know Harris; the police are called and he attempts to call a colleague named Cole, to no avail. Stating he wants to go back to the hospital, he dodges the police but finds himself being followed. While on a train, he loses the man following him and writes down his schedule for the next day from memory.

Harris is able to track Gina, the taxi driver who saved him, but she is an illegal Bosnian immigrant and is afraid to help him, he then goes to visit the office of Prof. Leo Bressler, whom he is scheduled to meet, only to find "Dr. Harris" is already there; as Harris attempts to prove his identity, "Harris" provides identification and a family photo, both of which have his face. Overwhelmed by the identity crisis, Harris falls unconscious and awakens back at the hospital. Smith (the man who was following him), an apparent assassin sent to target Harris, kills Gretchen Erfurt, Harris's attending nurse, but Harris escapes.

Harris seeks help from Erfurt's friend, private investigator and former Stasi agent Ernst Jürgen. Harris's only clues are his father's book on botany and Gina, who has been working at a diner since the crash. While Harris persuades her to help him, Jürgen researches Harris and the biotechnology summit, discovering it is to be attended by Prince Shada of Saudi Arabia; the prince is funding a secret project headed by Bressler, and has survived numerous assassination attempts. Jürgen suspects that the identity theft might be related.

Harris and Gina are attacked in her apartment by Smith and another assassin, Jones; they escape after Gina kills Smith. In his book, Harris finds that Liz has written a series of numbers that correspond to words found on specific pages. Using his schedule, Harris confronts Liz alone; she tells him he got in the taxi because he left his briefcase at the airport and that she will meet him there. Meanwhile, Jürgen receives Cole at his office and reveals his findings about a secret assassination group known as Section 15. Jürgen soon deduces that Cole is a former mercenary and member of the group; knowing Cole is there to interrogate and kill him and with no way of escape, Jürgen commits suicide to protect Harris.

After retrieving his briefcase, Harris parts ways with Gina; when she sees him kidnapped by Cole and Jones, she steals a taxi and follows them. When Harris awakes, Cole explains that "Martin Harris" is just a cover name created by Harris and Liz was his professional teammate, his head injury caused him to believe the persona was real; when Liz notified Cole of the injury, "Harris" was activated as his replacement. He continues to explain Harris is a trained assassin that they have to eliminate. Gina drives up in time to save Harris, running over Jones before he can kill Harris, then rams the van Cole is in over a railing, killing him as well. During the commotion, Harris finds a hidden compartment in his briefcase containing two Canadian passports, remembering that he and Liz were in Berlin three months prior to plant a bomb in Prince Shada's suite.

Now aware of his own role in the assassination plot, Martin seeks to redeem himself by thwarting it. Hotel security immediately hold Martin and Gina, but Martin proves his earlier visit to the hotel. After being convinced of the bomb's presence, security evacuates the hotel. Harris realizes that Prince Shada is not Section 15's target, but rather Bressler, who has developed a genetically modified breed of corn capable of surviving harsh climates. If Bressler is killed and his research is stolen, his findings would be worth billions of dollars should they fall into the wrong hands. Liz, who previously accessed Bressler's laptop and stole the data, tells "Harris" to complete their mission in getting rid of Bressler, while she disarms the bomb they no longer need. Unable to disarm it in time, Liz is blown up. During the evacuation, Harris stops "Harris" from killing Bressler and kills him, ending Section 15's plans for good. Gina finds Harris and they escape during the aftermath of the bombing.

As the bombing is identified as a failed assassination of Prince Shada, Bressler announces he is making his corn available to the world for free; as the announcement is televised, Harris and Gina board a train together with new 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;[6] 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.[8] According to Andrew Rona, the budget was $40 million.[9] Producer Joel Silver's US company Dark Castle Entertainment contributed $30 million.[10] German public film funds supported the production with €4.65 million (more than $6 million).[11] The working title was Unknown White Male.


Unknown was screened out of competition at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival,[12] it was released in the United States on February 18, 2011.

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film has an approval rating of 56% based on 191 reviews; the average rating is 5.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Liam Neeson elevates the proceedings considerably, but Unknown is ultimately too derivative – and implausible – to take advantage of its intriguing premise."[13] On Metacritic the film has an average weighted score of 56 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[14] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[15]

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."[16] Justin Chang of Variety called it "an emotionally and psychologically threadbare exercise".[17]

Box office[edit]

Unknown grossed $63.7 million in North America and $72.4 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $136.1 million.

It finished a number one opening at its first week of release with $21.9 million.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d "Unknown (2011)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "Unknown (EN) [Original title]". LUMIERE. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  3. ^ Unknown at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Unknown at The Numbers. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  6. ^ a b "Unknown White Male Starts Principal Photography". MovieWeb.com. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  7. ^ Dargis, Manohla (2011-02-17). "Me, My Doppelgänger and a Dunk in the River". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  8. ^ "Unknown Shooting in Berlin". EmanuelLevy.com. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  9. ^ Andrew Rona at Berlinale press conference, 18 February 2011. See "Press Conference" video at Berlinale web site after 30 minutes. Retrieved 2012-01-23.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "Unknown Identity". MediaBiz.de. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  12. ^ "The 'Competition' of the 61st Berlinale". Berlinale.de. 18 January 2011. Archived from the original on 22 January 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  13. ^ "Unknown (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  14. ^ "Unknown reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  15. ^ "Unknown–CinemaScore". cinemascore.com. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
  16. ^ Roeper, Richard (2011). "Richard Roeper's Reviews - Unknown Review". YouTube. Reelz Channel. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  17. ^ "Unknown". Variety. 15 February 2011.
  18. ^ "'Unknown' Helps French Cinema Have an Identity Abroad in 2011". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012-02-07.

External links[edit]