Complete Unknown (2016)

  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Joshua Marston
  • Cast: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover


This shape-shifting tale of the perils and pleasures of self-reinvention begins at a dinner party, when Tom’s (Michael Shannon) co-worker arrives with an intriguing date named Alice (Rachel Weisz). Tom is convinced he knows her, but she refuses to acknowledge their history. And when Alice makes a hasty exit, Tom sets off after her. What follows is an all-night odyssey shared by two people, one needing to change his life, the other questioning how to stop changing.

One comment

  • How does it feel to be like a rolling stone? Complete Unknown, which lyrically references Bob Dylan’s song, doesn’t so much answer this as paw listlessly at the deliberately cryptic yet simultaneously ponderous possibility.

    The question of identity – its limits, its mutability, how much of it is inherently rooted, how much of it is self-imposed – lies at the heart of director Joshua Marston’s third feature. The opening is tantalising – a sequence that presents Rachel Weisz as various characters, amongst them a magician’s assistant and an emergency room doctor. Her name might be Constance or Paige or, as she’s referred to for most of the film, Alice. Her identity has been in amorphous flux for nearly 15 years – she incarnates selves only to shed them as soon as she feels they’re done, and discarding everything and everyone in the process.

    Is it courage or cowardice? For Michael Shannon’s Tom, it’s the latter. He doesn’t understand how she could be so unrooted, how she can shift from one identity to another without endangering her true self. Tom is obviously her polar opposite – he can’t even considering a move that would take him and his wife Ramina (Azita Ghanizada) away from their Brooklyn residence, which also happens to be his childhood home – but he also happens to know exactly who this woman is. Her name is Jenny and they once were lovers.

    If there’s a narrative engine to be found, it’s whether or not Jenny/Alice might enlighten Tom on the virtues and endless possibilities of her inventions. They leave Tom’s birthday party, breaking away from the guests and take a long journey into the night, revisiting their past, wondering about their present, and leaving the viewers pondering if there is any conclusion, whether happy or bittersweet, that would salvage the increasing pointlessness of the film.

    Weisz and Shannon do what they can with essentially oblique roles, managing to weave a seductive air that nearly distracts from the boredom and white noise.

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