Movie Reviews

Review: ‘Complete Unknown’ Is Self-Reflective & Thought-Provoking

Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller Directed by: Joshua Marston Starring: Michael Shannon, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates Written by: Joshua Marston & Julian Sheppard

Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
Directed by: Joshua Marston
Starring: Michael Shannon, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates
Written by: Joshua Marston & Julian Sheppard

Synopsis: A free spirited curious woman comes back with a new identity in order to re-enter her past lovers life. 

I had completely gone into this movie unknown about it’s premise, and I came away pondering and debating. Co-written and directed by Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) the movie poses multiple questions about life, discovery and identity. The movie stars Michael Shannon and Rachel Weisz. Shannon plays Tom, a man in a comfortable place in his life. He has a wife, a solid job, it appears he isn’t missing much, until a former flame reappears in his life and challenges all that he’s been comfortable with.


This isn’t a typical movie, it’s very much a dialogue driven character piece. It’s simple, yet mysterious. Most of the mystery surrounds the character played by Rachel Weisz. She’s sort of a chameleon of personalities. Made me wonder if she was crazy? Bold? Extremely self-aware? Adventurous? It’s actually probably a combination of it all, but the presentation is so intriguing. The backstory of the characters past lives and relationship was incredibly interesting to me, and their present depicted interaction was part of their relationship history puzzle that I was trying to put together in my mind.

Weisz plays a character with many layers

Weisz plays a character with many layers

The main point that hits is about challenging yourself in life. People often settle with comfort and familiarity. The Alice Manning (Weisz) character wears many hats when it comes to her lifestyle. She’s borderline bipolar, but she just thrives on trying to be someone else all the time and never settling. Does that make her a poser? That’s a legitimate question to ask. She fabricates her identity, sometimes it’s just to get a reaction, or maybe not? These are the sort of thought provoking questions this movie leaves you with. She goes from being a magic show performer to being a nurse to being a scientist that studies frogs.

It’s fairly obvious that the combination of Shannon and Weisz automatically means rock solid performances, and that’s what they deliver. The dialogue is continuous and both handle it well. The interaction between their characters is as awkward as it is intriguing. Shannon is just so good playing complex and damaged individuals. Tom isn’t a damaged guy, more like a guy playing it safe in life, and avoiding change. As mentioned, Weisz does a fine job displaying all the shades of Alice, which are many more shades than Christian Grey ever had.

Michael Shannon plays a much less intense character

Michael Shannon plays a much less intense character

The simplicity of the look of the film works well with the characters and the premise. It sort of reminded me of another well shot simplistically looking film, Before We Go. Marston has a great feel for his characters, and their needs. The house party scenes were one of the best. It had a genuine feel of reality. I felt the awkwardness, excitement, intrigue that everyone was having. It felt very authentic.


Once the initial reveal takes place, the movie falls a little dull. You need to follow the characters throughout to piece together their individual motives and desires, but when not much is happening around them, that’s tougher to do. The film leaves you wanting a bit more of a decisive conclusion to the fallout. It’s sort of empty, but understandably so.

At times it is dull like hanging out at a library

At times it is boring, just like hanging out at a library

There is one scene where it’s about a minute long shot of frogs making noises in a dark forest. There really was no purpose of that shot. It didn’t advance or contribute to the plot at all, unless it was a hint at the randomness of Alice’s character? Maybe also for the frog enthusiasts.

Even though the movie is rich on thought provoking self-identity questions, it’s empty on pacing and engaging entertainment. It’s a movie that can lose you after the midway point, as the characters seem to dance around in a circle of debate on their outlook on life.


Marston puts together a smart and though provoking movie that poses relevant questions about identity and personal desires. It’s well acted. Semi-suspenseful. A bit abstract. It’s slow. Ultimately you get to decide the intentions and outcomes, which is a good thing when you get to feel like your thoughts and opinions can shape the meaning of the film and characters. While it had me bored at times, I appreciated it for what it presented.

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 30 min

Release Date: Friday, September 9, 2016

For more movie news follow me on Twitter @JimRko

  • Acting - 9.5/10
  • Cinematography - 8/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 4.5/10
  • Setting/Theme - 8/10
  • Buyability - 7/10
  • Recyclability - 4.5/10
  • Fun/Entertainment - 3.5/10
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