Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Complete Unknown (2016)

Film: Complete Unknown (2016)
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover
Director: Joshua Marston
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I've probably mentioned this a few times before, but Rachel Weisz has slowly become one of my favorite actresses at the movies (currently).  This is a weird evolution for me, as I have always liked her (I enjoyed her work even as early as The Mummy), but when she transitioned into the role of mainstream "serious" actress in 2005's The Constant Gardener, it caught me by surprise.  I felt a kind of pride for being a fan early on even if it felt like a one-time thing, but in the years since Weisz used her Oscar trophy less for franchise paycheck work like so many supporting players thrust into the spotlight (give or take Oz: The Great and Powerful), and instead used her newfound crossover fame to make a series of complicated, occasionally successful, movies where she mines the inner-workings of a deeply damaged woman, the best being The Deep Blue Sea, which in my opinion should have won her a second Oscar.  Looking at human beings and the elasticity of their emotions, along with the deep damage brought on by loneliness, is one of my favorite ideas at the movies, and as a result seeing Complete Unknown was a no-brainer for me: favorite actress combined with a topic I was interested in, even with almost no press it felt like the right decision.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film itself is a unique and brilliant idea, in my opinion.  The film follows Alice (Weisz), known by a number of different names in the film but we'll stick with Alice for now, as she encounters a man from her past named Tom (Shannon), who knew her back during her "first life."  She eventually, through a series of deep depressions or whatever would make a person do such a thing, gives up on her current identity and adopts an entirely new one, one where she is a completely different person she creates largely from thin air.  The film is fascinating in the way this unfolds, first getting initial reaction from Tom's friends, who are not interested in her for this reason, and then from Tom, who remembers the girl he fell in love with, perhaps the great love of his life, and as his birthday proceeds, we get a very interesting look at what it takes for Alice to essentially abandon all meaningful human interactions with people and forego lasting relationships in order to completely immerse herself in the different identities she keeps creating for herself.

The film is not a success, it's worth noting, if we're looking at the mile-high vantage.  The final third of the film doesn't really know how to end this story, with Marston stuck between wanting Tom to continue on with Alice, who has been so deeply shaken by her past for so many years and may want to quit but doesn't know how, and him returning to the humdrum of his regular life.  It hurts the film that we never really feel invested in any aspect of Tom other than his relationship with Alice.  His strange gender politicking with his wife, his stalling career, and the crises of middle age and realizing you've hit a "point of no return" on select dreams are all there, but they don't really come across because the side characters are underwritten and because we don't get enough background on Tom to really care, particularly with Alice in the picture.  In that way, the film fails.

But the acting is too good and the story too fascinating not to hold your complete attention.  Alice is really interesting, especially the way that Weisz draws her, and you're left wanting more and more, which may be the point; Alice cannot handle the pressures that society has thrown at her, and cannot deal with the fact that she dropped out so she abandons all of the pleasures of long-standing relationships in favor of a life where she doesn't have to deal with disappointment or hurt again, at least not in a traditional way.  Her going to Tom, the last person who "really knew her" is stunning because it's certainly her last chance at a normal life, and she has to throw it away by the end of the film because she's gone too far, and is too deep into this series of double lives to ever really be able to escape.  Weisz is so good at this type of role, and it works, and even if the film isn't very strong it's one of those rare cases where I'm so compelled by the plotting and the acting that it's kind of hard to care. It's the sort of movie I'd recommend to only the most cerebral and film-involved of my friends, but it's one that I would have to recommend even though I'm not convinced it's actually a good movie, so we'll go with three stars.

Those are my thoughts-this movie made very little money (I saw it on opening night in my theater and it was practically empty), so my gut says very few people actually caught it.  If you did, please discuss as I am dying to get a second opinion or a conversation going here as I found it a conundrum. Share below!

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