Complete Unknown Never Completely Delivered.
One of the very few genres left in cinema that leaves an audience guessing until the end is the mystery genre. It’s a rarity when a film comes around with such an intriguing premise, that isn’t already a known property or based on some book series. So naturally, when I heard Joshua Marston (The Forgiveness of Blood) was directing a mystery about a woman who basically can change her identity to whomever she wants, I was excited. Complete Unknown goes through a bit of an identity crisis itself. One minute it’s an engaging mystery, the next it’s a cerebral drama and even dives into some art house at times. Unfortunately, for Complete Unknown, the film asks big questions that never truly get answered.
The opens up with Alice (Rachel Weisz) looking for an apartment, going to work and doing some “research” on her end. Research for what you ask? Well, for the sake of those of you who want to see the film, I won’t spoil it for you. She eventually comes into contact with Tom (Michael Shannon) whom she knows from her past. The opening act of Complete Unknown is quite good. The introduction to these characters are smart, Marston’s direction is both claustrophobic and tense, I was captivated.
The sad news about Complete Unknown is that it starts off with this intriguing premise and fails to go anywhere substantial with it. It’s almost as Josh Marston had half of a good script, then just made everything up as production went on. It’s honestly a shame because of all of the high caliber talent involved both on and off the screen.
What Complete Unknown does deliver on are two powerhouse performances by Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. The two clearly have a history together, which is shown to us subtly as the film lingers. Weisz is magnetic as the mysterious Alice, making the most out of the script and effortlessly adding multiple layers to the character. The same can be said for Michael Shannon’s Tom. Michael Shannon is hands down one of the great character actors working today, this performance being one of his more nuanced ones. Both performances are stellar, with both players showcasing that less is indeed more, to some degree.
What is so disappointing about this film lies wholly within its script. The film never fulfills its promise and fails to deliver any conclusion. I get that some films are left for an audience to interpret and when that is done well, it works. I can’t help but ask myself the point of this story when the credits started rolling and as an audience member go “that’s it?” When a film such as The Master or The Wrestler does with such endings is that it built a foundation and story on characters that have you care. I was waiting for that moment, that story point, that “something”, to get me invested in this story. The film leaves you in a cold place, and you wonder what the point of all of it was.
By the time Kathy Bates and Danny Glover show up (I’m serious) for a completely pointless and out of context subplot, I checked out of the film. The big questions it once asked were left on the backburner, never to be brought up again. The excellent dinner party and nightclub scenes were a distant memory and the film, much like its protagonist’s, was lost. I admire the ambitiousness of Josh Marston’s direction, but somewhere Complete Unknown gets lost in the shuffle, fading black and never to be seen again.
Complete Unknown opens August 26th, 2016