From Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of the critically acclaimed thriller “Orphan,” comes Warner Bros.’ suspense-filled mystery “Unknown” starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger and January Jones.
The work of cinema’s undisputed master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock has loomed large in Collet-Serrat’s thoughts since he first read the screenplay of “Unknown.” “I’ve always liked Hitchcockian thrillers—`North by Northwest,’ `The Wrong Man,’ or Polanski’s `Frantic’—and I felt this was a great opportunity to jump into that genre, as well as a chance to do a movie in that classic mold, and with a great cast.”
Collet-Serra recalls that the concept that intrigued him in the early version of the “Unknown” script by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell (based upon the novel Out of My Head by Didier van Cauwelaert), “was that of someone waking up one day and realizing that he’s been completely replaced in the world. The writers had done a marvelous job of expanding that concept into a feature film, incorporating the surreal and the crazy aspects of learning that someone has taken your place in the world, with the added drama that, while they can prove their identity—as you—you can prove nothing.”
In the film, Martin Harris (Neeson) is a botanist who arrives in Berlin for a conference, along with his wife (Jones). “They arrive at their hotel when he realizes he’s left a bag at the airport,” the director details. “He jumps into a taxi and, on the way back to the airport, he has a horrible accident in which he suffers severe head trauma. He wakes up four days later in a hospital, having been in a coma. The doctor comes in and, in the course of their first conversation, asks him who he is. He says, ‘I’m Martin Harris, an American doctor here for a conference.’ When he’s released, Martin goes back to the hotel to look for his wife. He easily finds her, but she shows no reaction to her missing husband, just ‘Who are you?’ Martin answers, ‘I’m your husband.’ And she responds ‘No, this is my husband;’ and we meet the other Martin. And our Martin is run out of the hotel. He is now a man who has lost everything. He’s in a strange city, a world away from all that he knows, and he must figure out what has happened to his life.
“Every door he knocks on is slammed shut on him; it’s the other guy who has Martin Harris’s identification,” continues Collet-Serra. “You look online for Martin Harris, and there’s the other guy’s picture. You go to a scheduled meeting, and this other guy is already there. And, at a certain point, Martin is asking himself whether he’s crazy or not.”
Collet-Serra sees this process of systematically painting his protagonist into a corner as his greatest debt to Hitchcock. “Though it’s twenty years after his death, Hitchcock still remains the master of suspense,” the director remarks, “and what he did so very well was to make you care about his central character. He’d put a character that you can relate to in a set of extraordinary circumstances, then systematically synchronize the actions of that character to exactly what the audience believes that character should do, and yet each such action would only further isolate him. As the noose tightens, so the viewer grows increasingly invested into this character’s journey.”
Opening soon across the Philippines, “Unknown” will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.