Lines like "You have to believe me!" and "I'm not crazy!" are two of my favorite staples of the thriller genre. And you'll find plenty of variations on all of them in today's theatrical release of 'Unknown.'
Liam Neeson stars as a very confused biochemist who wakes up from a car accident while on a business trip to Berlin only to find his wife (January Jones) doesn't recognize him and there's some other guy (Aidan Quinn) who appears to have stolen his life. Including his wife!
Naturally, all of his identification was lost in the accident, so he has no way of proving he's who he says he is. And given his wife is going along with the other guy, things really don't look good for him. So, Neeson's character enlists help from an improbably attractive cabbie (Diane Kruger) and a retired German spy (Bruno Ganz) to get to the bottom of everything.
Watching 'Unknown' reminded me of just how much I enjoy movies where nobody believes the protagonist. There's something inherently unsettling about the concept, which is probably why it's such an enduring movie theme.
With that in mind, I came up with a list of my top five favorite movie characters who, "Aren't crazy!" when they're screaming, "You have to believe me!" (I've intentionally left out movies set in mental institutions. Those are for another list and another time.)
1. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in 'The X-Files: Fight the Future.' I want to believe Mulder. But his claim the government is conspiring to hide the truth about an alien colonization of Earth is a tough tale to sell. Since Mulder is an established character, we know he isn't crazy -- so it's all the more frustrating to watch him struggle to get people to stop dismissing him as a paranoid eccentric.
2. Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) in 'The Changeling.' The scariest thing about this flick is it's based on true events. It's beyond unbelievable to think your son could go missing and the cops give you back some other kid so they can wrap up their paperwork. It could only amplify a mother's pain to be called crazy every time she points out the obvious fact the kid isn't hers. No wonder Jolie scored an Oscar nomination for this performance. Her gut-wrenching cries of, "He is not my son!" are hard to forget.
3. Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) in 'The Fugitive.' The doc has certainly spent a long time trying to get people to believe he didn't kill his wife. Clearly he hasn't been successful, given he's in the slammer facing death row. Since nobody will believe him, he has one choice -- to escape. And then, once he escapes, the only way to get people to believe him is to find the guy who really killed his wife. All of this truth-seeking seems exhausting.
4. Linda Hanson (Sandra Bullock) in 'Premonition.' Living a week out of chronological order can be quite disorienting! Especially the week your husband is killed in a car accident. No wonder everyone thinks Linda is going nuts. Especially her husband, who's probably wondering why his wife jumped in the shower with him fully clothed. Linda desperately tries to convince her husband it's essential the family get out of town (before it's too late!) but he dismisses her as wacky.
5. Steven Walker (William Peterson) in 'Fear.' Steven knows there's something off about his daughter's new boyfriend, Marky Mark. There's definitely something sinister about the polite young man with the unnaturally hard abs. But, of course, everyone dismisses Steven as an overprotective father who's overreacting. His strict stance even drives his daughter back into Marky Mark's arms after he roughs her up a bit. Can Steve get people to see the truth about the psycho boyfriend -- before it's too late!?
Honorable mention: Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) in 'The Sixth Sense.' Sure you see dead people. Whatever, kid! No wonder Cole's parents sent him to a shrink. Or did they? At least the doctor can talk to dead people, too. Being able to bring up facts only dead people could know definitely helps Cole's case.