Toward the end of Complete Unknown, one character tells the other, “That’s crazy and fucked up and kind of amazing.”
In what could be the slowest movie ever made about New York City, at least those first two are right. Michael Shannon is Tom, who’s nothing like the General Zod in Man of Steel, but more like a moody pencil pusher who realizes during his birthday party that he’s not satisfied with his job or, it seems, his life, even though he has a smoking-hot, playful, Farsi-speaking, creative wife (Azita Ghanizada). Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) plays Alice, a woman with a mysterious past and a penchant for adventure.
Their intersection in the plot largely takes place over one evening and tries to be transcendental, but it comes out as a weird, slow story with a bunch of slow, dramatic pauses where nothing actually happens. The camera doesn’t move and the characters have boring, melancholic existences, except for the wife, who seems to be close to the edge of reinventing her dreams.
Danny Glover appears as the husband of Kathy Bates in an oddball cameo. He has a Haitan accent, she has a head of gray hair—and neither does anything that we couldn’t have lived without.
Since the core of the twisting plot is its only redeeming quality, we’ll leave out an analysis of its shortfall. Yet it’s interesting that we learn Alice feels trapped by being known—when someone else “wants to lay claim to you.” Exploring this would have been worthwhile. But apparently that didn’t occur to director and writer Joshua Marston, which is disappointing after the compelling characters in his 2004 heroin-smuggling drama Maria Full of Grace. The feeling that you’re supposed to spend the quiet moments of Complete Unknown contemplating the meaning of the truth, the merit of loyalty to your own character, and just what you might do with the opportunity to start with a blank slate doesn’t surpass the feeling of, “Why am I still watching this?” Not completely sure.