The Two Faces of January

UK Release Date 16th May 2014
Director Hossein Amini
Starring Dunst, Mortensen, Isaac
Runtime 96 Minutes
Certificate 12A
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 9th March 2014


Oscar winning Iranian born writer Hossein Amini has a pretty varied CV. Winning the academy award for adapted screenplay back in 1997 for The Wings of a Dove, he has since scribed such varying movies as Killshot, Drive and 47 Ronin. For his latest adaptation he has stepped behind the camera to bring The Talented Mr. Ripley writer Patricia Highsmith’s novel to the screen.

The Two Faces of January picks up in 1960’s Athens. Tourist / businessman Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his clearly much younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) are seemingly enjoying life wandering around markets and lunching in plaza cafes. A chance encounter with American abroad multi-linguist and low level swindler Rydal (Oscar Isaac) gives them a guide with local knowledge and a lecherous eye on Mrs. MacFarland and an envious eye on father figure Mr. MacFarland. Before long, Chester’s past has caught up with him and an unfortunate death and another chance encounter with Rydal leads to the unlikely trio being on the run on a beautiful Greek island whilst they wait for fake passports to arrive. Clearly, things are not going to go well as jealously and lack of sleep kick in….

Deliberately old fashioned in almost every way is probably the most concise way to describe this movie. Set up perfectly for Sunday afternoon viewing, although there is some violence, the overall tone of the piece is one that means you could happily sit down to watch it with your granny. None of which is meant as any kind of slight against the movie, far from it, it is incredibly good at embracing this old fashioned-ness. The entire thing put me in mind of an old Poirot movie or maybe something involving Miss Marple but much more cinematic.

The three players (and there really are only three characters of any note) are cast well as the suspicious businessman, at the end of her leash wife and listless, spoilt American. Mortensen’s Chester is a brooding, dark individual whose smile never quite makes sense and who constantly borders on bitter violence. Dunst’s Colette has motivations that are never fully revealed (though maybe the movie could do with spending a bit more time on this) but you quickly get the sense that cracks have been papered over one too many times and she might break at any second having ignored her husband’s dodgy dealing for far too long. And Isaac’s Rydal is the very picture of unknown. First seen confidently short-changing beautiful rich tourists, his tanned chiselled looks are a far cry from his mournful visage in Inside Llewyn Davies. Isaac plays his cards close to his chest and we are never sure whether or not to side with Rydal. Is he a born chancer, praying on innocent victims to fund his comfortable ennui? Or something darker?

Amini weaves the tale confidently as initially underwhelming events start to rack up into an unmanageable situation. Chester is forced into ever increasingly desperate decisions as he tries to run from his swindling past, forever clutching his cash-filled suitcase like a child’s security blanket. His initial calm, controlled demeanour is quickly eroded by events and his jealousy and insecurity towards his young wife soon tear the situation apart. Athens and the greek islands are framed beautifully but in somewhat muted tones, this is definitely no Mamma Mia!. As the tensions grow within the three, it’s soon clear that nobody is going to come out of this well.

The Two Faces of January is the definition of an efficient thriller. Perfectly acted by the three leads, with a solid, intriguing plot and beautiful locations, its spot on 96 minute running time whizzes past most pleasurably leaving you with a wonderful longing for a good old fashioned thriller. On this basis, I have to hope that Amini spends more time behind the camera as well as the keyboard (though typewriter somehow feels more appropriate). 

Check out the trailer here.

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