Complete Unknown (Sundance Review)
If you could change your identity and start over as someone else, would you? That’s the main proposition in director Joshua Marston’s (Maria Full of Grace) third feature film, Complete Unknown. The film begins as a mystery, following a woman pretending to be someone that she’s not, with Marston taking a big gamble and revealing this information early on. After that, the film suddenly shifts from cryptic thriller to slow conversation piece, a change that might frustrate viewers if it were Complete Unknown’s only issue. It’s one thing to stop asking compelling questions, but it’s another to stop providing compelling answers. After the reveal, Complete Unknown is supposed to be about why she changes her identity, and I’m not sure if the film gives a convincing answer.
Rachel Weisz plays Alice, the mysterious woman who attends a birthday party for Tom (Michael Shannon) on a date for a newly befriended colleague. She’s the life of the party, fascinating everyone with her tales of traveling to Tanzania for 18 months where people started calling her by a different name. The only person not fascinated is Tom, who seems to recognize her as someone named Jenny from years ago.
Once he confronts her about this privately, Complete Unknown transitions into a lengthy heart-to-heart discussion that many are comparing to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. But the conversation that follows between them never gets close to as introspective as the comparison suggests.