SIFF 2016 Review: Complete Unknown

Complete Unknown (2016)

dir. Joshua Marston

written by: Joshua Marston, Julian Sheppard

starring: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Azita Ghanizada, Michael Chernus, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover


3.25 out of 4 stars

I was fortunate enough this week to catch two movies starring Rachel Weisz.  The Lobster was a brilliant and troubling dystopia that requires rewatching.  In a yet unreleased work, Joshua Marston, director and writer of Maria Full of Grace, delivers Complete Unknown, a story of acquaintances lost and whether they ever need found.  


Tom (Michael Shannon) is celebrating his birthday with a few close friends.  A coworker arrives with a date, a new woman Alice (Rachel Weisz) with whom he’s been having lunch.  Her fascinating history of research in Tasmania, magic in China, and travels in Central America thrill her audience, except for Tom who knew Alice in another life.  Recounting the changes since their college days, they debate the life Alice has chosen and the value of staying with the familiar versus exploring the unknown.


Marston leads his New York City exploration with an impeccable cast ready to decipher the value between history and reality.  Built like a pseudo-parable, Weisz and Shannon match beautifully as a pair proving their life decisions.  Tom is ingrained in his marriage and his job, and Alice has been absent for fifteen years.  Shannon is indignant in his delivery, assured that the traditional adult life is the best option.  Filled with vitriol, along with subdued sadness for his long lost friend, Shannon portrays a man allowing himself to react to his career and relationship.  Has he experienced enough that life has to offer, or has he simply allowed himself to become his parents?  He is living in his parents’ home with his wife.  Weisz layers ambivalence with the trouble she has caused with her return.  Uncomfortable with conflict and displeased with complacency, Weisz manipulates those around her as if a spector visiting but already adrift in her next venture.  She’s fully capable of managing different lives, until she is delivered into the standard adult world.


With partially hidden scenes, much of the action appears in the background until Weisz and Shannon branch out on their own.  A charming but needless cameo by Kathy Bates and Danny Glover emphasizes the history for Tom and Alice’s relationship, and cements the film makes the correct decisions.  Their platonic relationship is strained, but behind the hurt feelings lies the understanding that draws Alice back to her old life.  The film takes none of the directions one would expect, and that is the ultimate power behind the film.  Marston, along with co-writer Julian Sheppard, developed an uncommon experience with Complete Unknown.  Alice strives to explore those unexpected places where Tom has never imagined to explore.  This movie is conflicting worldviews at their best.


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