Directed by Joshua Marston
Released August 26, 2016
Movies have a set period of time – usually between an hour and a half and two hours – to create a universe with living, breathing characters. There are those that take time to truly get to know a person, actual or fictional, over the course of their entire life, while other films focus on just one day, night, or week of someone’s existence. In most cases, the more you know and learn about a protagonist, the better. The new film “Complete Unknown” supposes the opposite, crafting a mysterious drama centered around a woman who personifies its title.
“Complete Unknown” has two main characters, Tom (Michael Shannon) and Alice (Rachel Weisz). Tom is a successful man with many friends, and he is at a turning point in his sometimes strained relationship with his wife, Ramina (Azita Ghanizada), as he considers moving with her to a new job across the country. As he celebrates his birthday, Tom meets the woman his friend Clyde (Michael Chernus) has started seeing recently. Alice is a charming, alluring find with many interests more than capable of sustaining living conversation with Clyde’s friends. But Tom seems acutely aware that there is something wrong, and little time passes before it is revealed that their stories are interlinked even though they haven’t seen each other in years, and she is most definitely not who she claims to be.
This is one of those films where it’s better to go in without knowing much, and even just providing a bit of a summary might detract from the experience. This reviewer saw the title and the cast and figured that was a good enough reason to check it out, and interested audiences should do the same. What can be said without giving too much away is that Alice is a fascinating character whose story merits such cinematic consideration, and Tom provides an effective standard, stable foil to her more unpredictable chameleon.
Weisz is a terrific actress who won an Oscar in 2005 for “The Constant Gardener.” After her supporting role in “Youth” last year and her eager portrayal of a free thinker in “The Lobster” earlier this year, this is a superb showcase for Weisz to really shine. Shannon, who is starring in so many films this year, is at his most quietly formidable best opposite her. Ghanizada, who starred on Syfy’s great series “Alphas” a few years ago, and Chernus, who does plenty of underpraised supporting work in film and on television, contribute to the ensemble in their roles, as do Kathy Bates and Danny Glover in a key extended scene. Joshua Marston, who made his feature film debut with “Maria Full of Grace,” has found another very interesting subject matter and created a film that is well-constructed and often engaging but ultimately unsatisfying, set on where it wants to start out but hardly as certain of where it wants to end up.