A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though it has one great plot twist, Unknown will disappoint those who liked star Liam Neeson's last thriller, Taken. It has quite a lot of violence, mostly centered around big, brawling fistfights, car chases and crashes, and explosions. Brief flashback scenes show a married couple kissing and making love (no nudity). Language is infrequent (a couple of uses of "s--t" is the worst of it), and while the bad guys use an array of mysterious lethal/knockout drugs, there are no "real" drugs. Overall, the biggest problem is that it's slow and uninvolving, with a downer of a message ("you can't trust anyone") and a main character who isn't particularly sympathetic or admirable.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife, Liz (January Jones), to participate in an important biotechnology conference. He discovers that he's left his briefcase at the airport and hops in a cab to retrieve it. The cab crashes and goes into the river, and Harris goes into a coma. When he wakes up, he tries to re-enter his life, only to find that another man (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place and that his wife doesn't recognize him. He enlists the aid of the cab driver -- a skittish, scrappy illegal immigrant named Gina (Diane Kruger) -- as well as a former Nazi secret policeman, Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), to help him figure out what's going on. Unfortunately, mysterious forces are out to stop him at all costs.
Is it any good?
This movie is mostly a dud. In Taken, Neeson became an unlikely grown-up action hero, and the movie was a hit. There, he was cunning and crafty and working actively to rescue his daughter. In UNKNOWN (which is based on a 2003 French novel), he's a victim and almost helpless, and the movie fails to recapture the same magic. Director Jaume Collet-Serra spreads the drama out too far and the movie turns sludgy and slow, with the exception of the action scenes, which are choppy and junky, perhaps in an attempt to cover up their lack of logic.
Then comes the movie's big twist -- which is a good one and has the power to explain even the biggest head-scratchers of the first 90 minutes. But it doesn't help with the movie's pacing, lack of character depth and emotional involvement, and over reliance on silly, implausible fights and chases. Old-time character actors Ganz and Frank Langella provide a few brief moments of pleasure here and there, but otherwise, it's forgettable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's violence. Is it thrilling or disturbing? Why? How does it compare to what you might see in a horror movie?
Is the main character justified in going to extreme mesures to retrieve his identity? What consequences does he face for his actions? Do the ends ever justify the means?
Did the movie's big twist work for you? How did it work? How does it change everything that came before it?
- In theaters: February 18, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: June 21, 2011
- Cast: Diane Kruger, January Jones, Liam Neeson
- Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content
- Last updated: February 20, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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