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Secrets and lies

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Michael Shannon and Rachel Weisz are the principal reasons to see Complete Unknown, the latest film from director/ co-screenwriter Joshua Marston, whose 2004 debut feature Maria Full of Grace earned an Oscar nomination for its leading actress, Catalina Sandino Moreno.

Shannon plays Tom and Weisz plays Alice, although she hasn’t always been Alice. There are fragments and flickers of her earlier “lives,” including a symbolic one as a magician’s assistant. Tom’s a hardworking New Yorker, but Alice is something else again – a person who discards previous identities and instantly assumes a new one.

They are introduced at Tom’s birthday party, but Tom immediately recognizes Alice as an old flame from 15 years before. Later, after the party has awkwardly broken up, he confronts her and she admits she intentionally sought him out after all this time.

This unexpected reunion comes at a pivotal time for both Tom and Alice (named, perhaps, for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonder land?).

Tom’s wife (Azita Ghanizada) has accepted a position in California and he’s non-committal about a possible move, which puts a strain on their marriage. He’s restless, at ends. Conversely, Alice hints that her wanderlust has abated and that she craves stability, which Tom is understandably skeptical about. Who knows if anything she says is true?

Indeed, all of us to some degree puts on a front, some more than others and some better than others. That, combined with the dedication that Shannon and Weisz bring to their roles, gives Complete Unknown a relevance and some resonance, although the film’s overall impact is somewhat illusory. Given the ambiguity of Alice’s character, the film can’t avoid ending on a likewise note.

How Alice has been able to chuck all vestiges of one life and assume another one isn’t thoroughly explained, but Weisz’s persuasive performance makes it credible within the context of the story. She’s unaware, or not willing to acknowledge, what or whom she leaves in her wake, and Tom acts as something of an accuser, as well as a reminder of what might have been.

Complete Unknown opens Friday

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