Complete Unknown

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Rachel Weisz in Complete Unknown - when Tom and his wife host a dinner party to celebrate his birthday, one of their friends brings a date named Alice. Tom is convinced he knows her, but she’s going by a different name and a different biography - and she’s not acknowledging that she knows him.
"The film itself has a fluid identity, part will they/won't they romance, part mystery and part unsettling thriller."

There are plenty of films that deal with people being forced to reinvent themselves and start over but fewer about those who make a conscious choice to leave their lives behind, at least through choice. Alice (Rachel Weisz) is one of the rare breed and where others view a blank slate as worryingly empty, she sees it as a challenge. Enticingly setting her up as an enigma from the start, Joshua Marston introduces us to her through a montage of her various lives, her look changing slightly, her name different and holding down a variety of jobs, until we are introduced to the Alice she is today.

If Alice is a mystery, Tom (Michael Shannon) is all about certainty, the kind of guy who operates at a high fret level, he doesn't even sit to drink coffee. But on his birthday he is being asked to consider reinventing himself to help further the ambitions of his wife (Azita Ghanizada). Perhaps the cake - with its incorrect birthday greeting to 'Tony' - is a sign. Alice turns up to his party, on the arm of a pal, but there's much more to this than a simple date night. Marston and his co-writer Julian Sheppard display a great ear for dialogue and group dynamics as they show how the party group gradually shift from warmly welcoming Alice with a friendly curiosity to barely concealed animosity as it begins to emerge that she may not be exactly as she first appears. That Alice isn't Alice - or, rather, that she was someone else Tom knew before - doesn't come as a major reveal, instead Marston views it as a gateway to considering what the possibilities and perils living a life of constant reinvention may offer.

What does leaving your life behind mean for those who remain in the 'old world'? Marston uses Alice to take Tom on an odyssey through his own emotions, as she shows him in scenes with elegantly pitched supporting turns from Kathy Bates and Danny Glover, what it might mean to start again on a whim. Tom, meanwhile, offers Alice a tantalising glimpse of what might have been if she'd stayed where she was. The film itself has a fluid identity, part will they/won't they romance, part mystery and part unsettling thriller and this, along with the somewhat slight premise mean it works better as a mood piece than a fully fledged narrative.

The presence of Shannon and Weisz, alongside a raft of excellent support, give the film its power as they long for the change the other has without the means to achieving it.

Reviewed on: 30 Nov 2016
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An enigmatic woman walks back into the life of a man she knew before.


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