16th Sep2014

‘The Two Faces of January’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Daisy Bevan, David Warshofsky, Yigit Özsener, Omiros Poulakis, James Sobol Kelly | Written and Directed by Hossein Amini


There are certain styles of cinema that what a bygone age, classics that you’d not expect to be recreated because modern movie making has changed, whether that is a positive or negative thing. The Two Faces of January is somewhat of a surprise because instead of being a modern thriller it looks back to the styles of directors like Hitchcock and stylistically could easily with such classics as Strangers on a Train; fitting as both are written by author Patricia Highsmith.

The Two Faces of January is the tale of Rydal (Oscar Isaac) an American tour guide working in Athens. Aligning himself with Colette (Kirsten Dunst) and Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) an American couple, they seem to be an easy way to make a quick buck. When he helps Chester with a seemingly unconscious man he finds himself helping the couple escape, later finding himself implicated in the death of the man now discovered to be dead. Falling for the beautiful Collete his attraction doesn’t go unnoticed by Chester though whose jealousy and paranoia reveal not all is as it seems with the seemingly clean-cut American couple.

It becomes clear very quickly that the three main characters in this film are two-faced in nature, as the title suggests. Rydal comes across as the charismatic tour guide, but makes most of his money from conning the pretty women he seduces on the tours. Chester MacFarland is a more seasoned con man dragging his wife around Europe to escape the people hunting him down for the money he’s stolen, leading to the murder. The characters clash with a battle of wits which is something of a life eduction for the two as MacFarland teaches the younger man the true art of the con, and Rydal shows the MacFarlands little life is far from perfect, and the cracks soon show. The last line in the film uttered by Chester also opens up another important theme that is an eye opener to the relationship between Rydal and Chester, so listen out for it.

To make a film like The Two Faces of January work there has to be a subtlety in the acting, this isn’t a film about action but about the interactions and chemistry between characters. As relationships and trust changes it’s the little nuances between Rydal and Colette that show affection and the mistrusting glance of Chester emphasising where the friction is growing. To make the audience notice these things it’s is not only down to the directing ability of Hossein Amini but also the acting ability of Isaac, Dunst and Mortensen. Mortensen does well dragging the attention of the camera to him, especially for his looks of annoyance and anger at the other two. Oscar Isaac plays his character with a certain naïve charm. He thinks he is in control but in fact is drowning in the lies that no longer hold up. For Dunst, her character may be caught in the middle of the chaos but she is knowing of her actions, playing the two men off each other and losing her cool when she feels an inability to control her situation.

The Two Faces of January feels very much like a homage to the Hitchcock style, an old school thriller that benefits from smart casting and focus on the characters and not trying to bolster the scenes with unneeded action scenes. Keeping the audience on their toes and forcing them to actually think about what they are seeing, it’s not about what the characters do rather than what they don’t do and the differences in the way they act to each other that is important. Some films flourish when they allow the audience to actually think for themselves, and The Two Faces of January is definitely one of them.

The Two Faces of January is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.

***** 5/5

Smart and intelligent, The Two Faces of January has a Hitchcock style that pulls the audience in and keeps them gripped. An old school thriller, it’s a shame they don’t make many films like this anymore.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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