We’ve all seen the “multiple identities” storyline before in entertainment, such as Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can or United States of Tara, but there’s always room for new stories surrounding the format. The ability for one person to assume numerous lives over the course of a film can be one of mystery and intrigue when done correctly, and with humanity filled with an abundance of tales to tell, there will likely never be a short supply of narratives for “multiple identity” movies to conceive. When a feature handles numerous lives in the form of a single individual, the story can be one of great intelligence and engaging drama. Complete Unknown is no such film.
Complete Unknown stars Michael Shannon as Tom, a government worker who is contemplating moving out of New York to California so his wife Ramina (Azita Ghanizada) can take a graduate program making jewelry. On the night of his birthday, Tom invites friends and family for a small get together to celebrate the day. However, a mysterious woman named Alice (Rachel Weisz) arrives to the party proclaiming herself to be a biologist fresh from the outback of Tasmania, much to the interest of Tom’s friends. However, Tom is the only one who truly knows the real person behind the flash Alice exudes, thanks to them being former lovers from over fifteen years ago.
Complete Unknown is brimming with potential behind the mess provided on-screen. What defines this movie in terms of a positive most of all are a select few scenes that briefly grab and engage the viewer. Specifically, there’s one scene where elderly woman Nina (Kathy Bates) trips and hurts herself in front of Tom and Alice, so the pair decide to help her walk back to her home and husband Roger (Danny Glover.) Perhaps its the obvious old school talent that’s commanding the screen, but this small segment of screen time is where Rachael Weisz and Michael Shannon finally get a groove in chemistry together. Despite being other scenes together prior to Kathy Bates’ introduction, Tom and Alice never felt like they had anything to connect over, at least not until here anyways.
When Bates and Glover’s scene comes and goes is where things momentarily pick up for the story, and we begin to see the interesting ideas tumbling around in the background. For example, the audience catches a glimpse of the identities Alice had donned for herself over the past fifteen years, such as becoming a magician’s assistant and nurse. Sure, they may not be that defined or absorbing, thanks to being far too brief when they should be the film’s focus, but it’s at least something that gives you a perspective on Alice’s identity crisis. Having not seen each other for over fifteen years, Tom and Alice manage to have their moments in rekindling the love they once had for each other. Not romantically, but the way you would care about that long-lost friend of yours from all those years growing up together. It’s these simple, yet effective, ideas that could have easily made this film worth a recommendation.
The problems, however, far outweigh that little glimmer of hope that could have salvaged this picture into being, at the very least, an interesting diversion. Complete Unknown has some of the driest, most bland dialogue I have heard in a long time. Trying to create characters that appear intelligent by making them spout gibberish nonsense for the first quarter of a film is a good way to alienate your audience fast. And considering the fact that these so called “smart” characters are just one note devices that are quickly abandoned when Tom and Alice’s story becomes the focus is equally as asinine. Despite that, the actual summation and conclusion of Alice and Tom’s story manages to bee the laziest thing of all here, with their relationship having no real send off to make you want these two to reunite somewhere down the line. Rather, you’ll just be whispering to yourself for the movie to end already so you could go watch a better drama.
This feature isn’t even technically well made either. Not regarding its small budget mind you, but rather how the creators confusedly jam in poorly composed shots far too often, cutting off actors’ faces or serving no other purpose then time filler. One particular shot filmed Rachel Weisz’ back for about ten to fifteen seconds while she played a frog recording to the party guests. It wasn’t an over the shoulder shot or anything smart for coverage’s sake, it was just some random shot her back. Who in their right mind would ask for the camera operator to ” film a shot of Rachel’s back, just in case we need proper coverage.”
When you’ve fabricated a “multiple identity” movie that puts no emphasis or imagination into the character’s identities, you’ve really missed the mark. Rarely is the potential for a good drama the focus of Complete Unknown, which is a shame since sparks of sensibility are definitely there hiding away. Rather, we get a slew of mostly uninteresting characters saying mostly uninteresting things and contributing nothing to Tom or Alice’s story. And when your two main characters only really begin to become engaging when veteran actors roll around, you’ve created the worst kind of feature: wasted potential for the primed cast. Complete Unknown is so remarkably dull and mediocre that being listed as a “thriller, mystery drama” couldn’t be further from the actual product. Complete Unknown knows not what story it wants to tell, and leaves off as a complete misfire.