From Maria Full of Grace, it has been clear that Joshua Marston is a talented, unflinching filmmaker willing to tackle stories that, perhaps, we don't even realize that we want to see until we're sitting there in the movie theatre watching them captivated by the characters coming to life.
Maria Full of Grace was such a film.
The Forgiveness of Blood was such a film.
Complete Unknown is such a film, a quietly intelligent beast of a film centered around a performance by Rachel Weisz that seems sadly destined to not quite get its due in this film that requires one's attention, one's thoughts, one's emotions and one's entire attention throughout its breezily paced 90minute running time.
Weisz plays a creation of sorts, a woman who is presented to us in such a way that we don't really know what to make of her. This character has moved to the Portland, Oregon area after months in the Amazon rain forests.
She is an ER nurse.
She's a magician's assistant a world away in Hong Kong.
Wait, there's more.
She's a swimmer. Who can't swim.
She's an American teacher in the U.K.
Alice is, it would seem, a New York-based biologist who simply shows up one night to a party with a friend (Michael Chernus). She is captivating with tales that make sense and make for great conversation. But, the party is at Tom's house and Tom (Michael Shannon) remembers something about Alice, a memory that Alice denies but a memory that lingers.
He follows. They talk.
Complete Unknown isn't one of Linklater's Before films, though there were times, strangely enough, that I thought of those infinitely memorable films. There's more here. It's more complicated, yet it's not particularly complicated. Co-written by Marston and Julian Sheppard, Complete Unknown is at least partly unsatisfying yet my sense is that it almost has to be partly unsatisfying if there's to be any artistic integrity about it at all.
There are diversions, necessary diversions but a tad unnecessary, such as the unique coupling of Kathy Bates and Danny Glover as an older couple provided temporary assistance who, perhaps, best drive home Marston's ultimate themes of identity and its fluidity.
While Complete Unknown occasionally dips into romantic melodrama, rest assured that Marston is working toward something far more meaningful than simply your standard issue love story here. He recognizes there are both pros and cons to the fluidity of identity, pros and cons brought expertly to life by Weisz, whose performance here is among here most transparent and satisfying. Weisz is so transparent here that she doesn't feel transparent, her quiet vulnerability adroitly meeting her self-assurance meeting an almost darker nature that leaves all of us guessing even if, it could be argued, the story itself doesn't quite take it as far as one wishes it would.
Michael Shannon, easily one of contemporary cinema's most gifted actors, at first seems an odd match for Weisz. Yet, Shannon is one of contemporary cinema's best actors and his quiet, reflective performance is perfectly attuned to that of Weisz. If you had doubts that Shannon was one of the best, Complete Unknown should remove those doubts.
Complete Unknown is an independent motion picture and that's rather fortunate as it means we won't be subjected to any unnecessary Hollywood stylized endings or peaceful resolutions. Complete Unknown ends, on a certain level, as unsatisfyingly as it began. That will work for those willing to surrender to it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic