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Unknown White Male (Script) – Review

Here comes another script review for you guys this week with Unknown White Male.
This thriller will star Liam Neeson. It’s supposed to be his next project once he completes The A-Team and Clash of the Titans.

The script was written by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell (the guys behind Guy Ritchie’s next movie, The Gamekeeper), with some revisions by Dead Like Me‘s Karl Gajdusek. The story is based on Didier Van Cauwelaert’s French novel Hors de moi (published under the title Out of My Head in the US). Unlike in the book, the movie isn’t set in Paris but in Berlin (money, money, money).

What’s it about? Well, it centers on Dr. Martin Harris, a botanist who arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz for a conference (he has been invited to speak at the “World Biotechnology Forum”). After forgetting something at the airport, he takes a taxi back to get it. His plans are cut short however when the car crashes into a river. His life is saved by the mysterious taxi driver, Gina. Martin wakes up in a hospital; three days have passed while he was in a coma. He discovers that another man (Martin B) has taken his identity and has replaced him in every way. Even Liz, the wife, doesn’t seem to recognize her husband.
Lost in a foreign country with no papers, a small amount of cash, and no way back, the “real” Martin tries to uncover the truth behind the most extreme case of identity theft ever. He also seem to have some killers going after him for some reason.
Has our hero gone completely off the rails (is he who he thinks he is), or is there really a giant conspiracy trying to replace him?

At first glance this looks like an interesting thriller with some paranoiac elements echoing The Game. We’re also quickly thrown into the action with the crash already happening around page five.
That said, this is no Taken. In Unknown White Male, I wouldn’t say Neeson kicks lots of asses, as we’re talking more of a deadly cat-and-mouse game throughout Berlin (involving at one point a train colliding with a Land Rover, “pushing the mangled wreck along the tracks into a tunnel [in] a tail of sparks”). The motto here is more “run and hide from the bad guys” than “go hunt them”.
It takes also a lot of time to get decent answers to some of the stuff going on. For the most part it feels like a long chase with no end in sight.
In a way, it looked like a cross between UPN’s 1995 Bruce Greenwood series, Nowhere Man (virtually the same basic premise), and especially a “reverse” Jason Bourne (mainly the first one). It’s kind of a giant mash-up between those two stories only set in Berlin.
Martin even has his own foreign female side-kick that later becomes a love interest and helps him uncover the truth. Whereas in Jason Bourne it was Franka Potente’s Marie, here it’s the character of Gina. Not much originality unfortunately.

And this brings me to two of the main points I want to make about the film.
First, about half-way through the story, the movie shifts tone into a more spy-based thriller. The “real” Martin seems to be hunted by a unit (named Section 15) described by one of the characters as:

Freelance, deniable. They’d work for whoever would pay – public sector, private sector. Second-to-none in their planning and efficiency. They never failed. What’s more, they were invisible. They’d strike, and nobody would even know there had been foul play.

To be clear, we’re talking about an elite assassin squad known for its secrecy. Yet, in the film, we’re witnesses to dozens of murders, crashes, and explosions. So what gives? I mean that’s what I’d call a hell of a mess to clean.
Also, there is this whole deal about the Biotech conference that is never really explained. Even though it is hinted around the end that one of the character’s research was around the “development of a new strain of corn to be made available worldwide without patent or copyright costs,” it still does not justify some of the actions made by a few of the main characters (going back to that “mess” thing).
Now, the second comment concerns a major twist that occurs about two-third into the movie.
I won’t say what it is exactly because it’s pretty major in the storyline, but like The Game’s final twist, this is a revelation that makes you reevaluate the whole shebang. The surprise is so big that it might be hard to swallow for some.
It even stretches this “reverse” Jason Bourne comparison to the max as you’ll see (when the film comes out, you cheat). And if you really, really, want to know the twist, go read the book’s last pages.

Overall, this was a decent read, but the finished product might look like a poor man’s Jason Bourne.
Shooting for Unknown White Male is slated to start around January in Berlin. As said above, Liam Neeson is set to star as the “real” Martin Harris. No clue as of now on who will play Martin B, Liz, or Gina. Joel Silver’s Dark Castle is producing the pic with a release date around 2011.

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