Starring Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover, Azita Ghanizada, Michael Chernus
It’s a good time to be a Rachel Weisz fan. Just this week she has not one, but two films opening. It’s been a while since the Oscar winning actress had been the lead of a film, but Ms. Daniel Craig is certainly overdue and talented enough to hold a film together. Joshua Marston is mostly a television director, although he did give us Maria Full of Grace, which earned a best actress Oscar nomination for Catalina Sandino Moreno back in 2005. Complete Unknown feels like an episode of a series that the audience thrust in the middle of trying to make sense of past and present. Both Weisz (The Constant Gardner, The Lobster) and Shannon (Take Shelter, Midnight Special) make this conversational drama fascinating, while the unconventional fragmented storytelling makes the pacing very strange.
Jennifer (Weisz) has led many lives since she left her life behind 15 years ago. Traveling the world under different names, assuming various occupations, never getting too close to anyone before changing again. “I kept filling her in until she felt finished,” Jennifer explains how she keeps track of the women she became. Now Alice Manning, an environmental Herpetologist in Long Island studying a new species of frogs, she works her way into a birthday party to see an old friend. When Tom (Shannon) first spots Jenny/Alice at his house, he’s shocked that the missing women from his past is both alive and well, assuming a completely different identity. Unwilling to expose her in front of his wife (Ghanizada) and friends, he looks for ways among the celebration to find out her story.
Weisz & Shannon make this conversational drama fascinating, while the unconventional fragmented storytelling makes the pacing very strange.
My description of the film might sound like I am giving away major plot points, but Complete Unknown isn’t a thriller, it’s not even really a mystery. The only mystery is a psychological one, what purpose does this woman have for living life the way she does. Sure a spy might live this way out of necessity and safety, Jennifer chooses this because it’s exciting and stimulating. Complete Unknown is only intriguing up to the point where common sense infects your mind. How could a normal citizen disappear so effortlessly in the day of advanced technology. As the birthday party continues, Tom’s friends quickly become suspicious the more Alice talks about herself and experiences. She can’t even convince a group of drunk partier’s for a few hours, so how has she duped people for all these years?
The script tries to answer that question in the second act, and it really does feel like an act, as our two main characters break off from the party and run into Kathy Bates. Alice demonstrates her talent for lying with this new stranger, and for a brief moment in time Tom understands and plays along. Tom is probably one of the most normal characters Shannon has ever played, which coming from someone as awkward as Shannon, is quite a performance. Marston’s script keeps the audience engaged despite nearly the entire plot happening through stimulating conversation. Outside brief scenes of past alias’s and the midnight frog hunt, Complete Unknown is confined to small spaces and never feels as big as the ideas is presents.
Weisz and Shannon take the viewer on an intellectually stimulating concept of multiple personalities.