Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon are two of the most underrated and under-appreciated actors of their generation. They dive deep into their characters, are mesmerizing to a fault, and can be counted on to deliver great performances – even in bad films. Such is the case with Complete Unknown, a disappointing third feature from Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace).
The film’s premise is fascinating: Alice (Rachel Weisz) shows up “coincidentally” to Tom’s (Michael Shannon) birthday party in his home as the date of his longtime co-worker (Michael Chernus). She immediately draws attention to herself, regaling party guests with exotic tales of her time spent in Tasmania where she discovered a new species of frog. Tom’s friends eagerly introduce her to him, yet she is obviously familiar: “This is Jenny,” he thinks, “my ex-girlfriend from fifteen years ago.”
After an awkward dinner where Tom bites his tongue while Alice/Jenny reveals that she had abandoned her family years earlier without informing them of her plans or destination, he finally confronts her in a private moment on his balcony. She confirms that she is Jenny – but she is also Consuelo. And Connie. Determined to not let her simply walk out on everyone and everything in her life, including him (again), Tom catches up with her after she leaves the party. What follows is an exploration of their past and a challenging of each other’s way of life as they stroll the moonlit city sidewalks.
Though thoroughly meditative and playfully seductive, the concept of the film is bogged down by enormous screenplay issues, not the least of which is the nagging question of, “Who cares?” The film’s big reveal occurs too early in the film, and it never recovers from the loss of peak interest. Even more, the whole scenario ends up amounting to just about nothing at all, with Alice’s/Jenny’s/Consuelo’s/Connie’s intentions and compulsions never fully receiving a satisfactory explanation beyond a simple, “…because I feel like it.” Never mind the obvious plot-holes brought to mind by cutting up one’s credit cards, discarding one’s driver’s license, and disposing of every identifying piece of information and “easily” becoming another person in today’s modern world, where you can’t even obtain a gym membership without a photo I.D.
It’s surprising to see actors of this caliber (not to mention Kathy Bates and Danny Glover in brief, but amusing supporting roles) attach themselves to material not worthy of their talents. While astutely gifted, they are merely actors – not miracle workers. This film and script is beyond their saving, unfortunately.
Complete Unknown is screening at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in the non-competitive Premieres category and has been acquired by Amazon for a planned 2016 theatrical and/or streaming release.
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Image Source: Sundance Institute