September 10th, 2016
MOVIE: COMPLETE UNKNOWN
STARRING: RACHEL WEISZ; MICHAEL SHANNON; KATHY BATES; DANNY GLOVER
DIRECTED BY: JOSHUA MARSTON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 Stars (Out of 4)
Complete Unknown has star power attempting to propel a bad movie into a mediocre one, but unfortunately, what’s needed is a script with more meat in the pages to make it a success. This is essentially the problem with the newest film from director Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace). Sporting two solid performances from Michael Shannon and Rachel Weisz, Complete Unknown feels like a short story stretched as far as it could go, before it leaves our characters grasping out for the story to take them somewhere.
The film opens with a montage of a woman in many different looks, ranging from hipster in overalls to a dark and mysterious woman with straight, jet-black hair. Her name is Alice (Weisz), but she has gone by many different names before. Her motivation of life has been to establish herself as someone, while involving herself in a relationship with a lover. She the talent of being able to become anyone she would like to be, whether that’s as a nurse or a scientist who inspects frogs, and then immediately get out when she’s had enough. When her journey leads to the birthday party for ex-lover Tom (Michael Shannon), it makes for an uncomfortable scenario where lies will be dug up. The moral tale takes hold that escaping your past, no matter how hard you try, will find its way back to you.
Having two acting thoroughbreds such as Weisz and Shannon is a good start. The Oscar winner and nominee, both bring a thespian style of gravitas to Marston and Jullian Sheppard’s screenplay. In fact, multiple scenes would fit better on the stage, especially during Alice’s first arrival to the birthday party with Tom’s co-worker/friend Clyde (Michael Chernus), placing her in a room with Tom’s wife Ramina (Azita Ghanizada) who becomes quite impressed with Alice, while she bounces around like a pinball, with her lies piling with each guest she talks with. Sadly, this is one of the more exciting moments and also where the film runs out of places to go.
Eventually, what follows are a sequence of conversations between the two leads, which is interesting, but that’s only because I am fascinated with Shannon and Weisz, not because what is being said is special. Starting with a walk on the streets of New York, there is a brief interruption where the two give aid to a woman- played by Kathy Bates, who has fallen down, needing help into her apartment. The ladies husband- played by Danny Glover gratefully appreciates the assistance, where the moment of good samaritan work turns to an open window for Tom to peak into Alice’s ways of lying. This scares Tom, so he brings what ever excitement could have been built to a screeching halt, leaving the apartment, afraid to become what Alice already is- a pathological liar.
The final half of the film involves a trip over to Alice’s frog lab where Marston decides to add very little of his artistic style, during a hypnotic walk into a room of mating amphibian sounds. When the film meanders into its ending, I felt as if there had to be something more, behind all the masks and the lies, I was more interested in what we were not being told.
Overall, Complete Unknown allows two great actors to play around with their characters and flex their performance muscles. What it doesn’t do, is give the audience a full dose of drama. Like a carrot in front of a mule, it dangles without ever giving us a nibble. There needs to be more to a story than what we have here. Something this unknown, needs to be much more complete.
Written by: Leo Brady