Review: The Two Faces of January (2014)

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Director: Hossein Amini
Screenwriter: Hossein Amini
Based on The Two Faces of January, a novel by Patricia Highsmith
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Yiğit Özşener, Daisy Bevan & David Warshofsky
Runtime: 96 min // Certificate: 12a


Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (author of The Talented Mr. Ripley), Hossein Amini’s feature debut is a passable but somewhat forgettable period drama that is elevated beyond mediocrity primarily by its three central performances.

Marvellous to look at, boasting as it does some extravagant set design and cinematography, the film tells the story of Chester MacFarland (Mortensen; Lord of the Rings) and his wife Colette (Dunst; Spider-Man) whose World comes crashing down around them when Chester’s criminal past catches up with them in Greece. Desperate to escape, the two befriend an American tour guide, Rydal (Isaac; Inside Llewyn Davis), who makes his living performing cheap scams. Rydal agrees to help, though as the situation becomes more perilous and as Chester becomes increasingly suspicious that Rydal is sleeping with Colette, the three of them soon discover the devastating consequences of lies, deceit and paranoia.

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The Two Faces of January feels like a throwback to the classic thrillers of the sixties, what with its slow burn style and its focus on lust as a trigger for tragedy. The character-centric mystery is packed with enough twists and turns to keep the audience entertained, even when the plot enters its inevitable middle-act lull, while the screenplay, though a tad melodramatic at times, offers a welcome break from the usual high-stakes but low-intelligence action thrillers that seem to dominate the big screen these days. Furthermore, though the film never quite manages to balance the inherent peril of the situation with the more carefree, almost airy quality of the potential romance between Colette and Rydal, it still never feels too tonally inconsistent.

Well-acted, especially by Mortensen who captures the essence of illogical paranoia rather brilliantly, craftily-scripted and generally entertaining, The Two Faces of January feels a bit more televisual than cinematic but it’s still a surprisingly engaging watch that never outstays its welcome or tries to be something it’s not.