“The Two Faces of January” is a Handsome, Enjoyable Affair

The Two Faces of January is the stylish directing debut of screenwriter Hossein Amini and stars Viggo Mortensen & Kirsten Dunst. Ryan Pollard takes a look…

The_Two_Faces_of_January_film_posterScreenwriter Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove, Drive) makes a stylish directing debut with this sleek thriller set in Greece and Istanbul, 1962, and adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel. Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) is a charismatic high-lifer holidaying in Greece with his glamorous wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst), who strikes up a friendship with ragamuffin tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac). Rydal is on the make, a discontented American abroad who appears to harbour Ripley-esque designs on a better life. So when Chester’s past comes back to haunt him in unexpectedly violent fashion, Rydal spies an opening. But is the young man motivated by love for money? Or for Colette? And how far are either of the MacFarlands to be trusted?

One of the reasons the film works as well as it does is that you don’t really know the answer, and you’re certainly not sure of Rydal to begin with, whether his motives are financial or emotional or something slightly more feral. What’s more important is that you don’t really trust either of them, because when we’re introduced to them, they appear full of intrigue, but as the narrative of the film moves forward, you discover the murkier parts of their lives and what happens is that, between the three of them, they start to descend into this purgatorial hell of their own making.


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The film is nicely done, as well as handsomely mounted, if in the end, a somewhat slight affair that has more to do with the surface rather than content. It’s well played by the central trio, and each of the three characters plays their role in a way that is ambiguous enough to raise those complex questions about whether or not each of them can be trusted or in fact there is something duplicitous about each of them. The film nod heavily towards Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and in comparison with that, the film does start to look like it’s more concentrated with the surface, but what surface. Marcel Zyskind cinematography beautifully photographs it, although while the scenery is stunning, it’s the three faces you’re more concentrated by, even when hidden by hats and shades.

In a good way, the film has a very old-fashioned feel to it, and doesn’t feel like it has a desperate modernity about it, because it doesn’t feel like it wants to be a modern movie. It does feel like an older movie than it is, and that works to both its credit and its disadvantage. To its credit, the film has a particular classic style to it that feels classic, both in terms of clothes and scenery. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t have much depth to it as a result and you do feel like you have seen this done before, but whilst you’re watching it, it is a very pleasurable watch. The British Board of Film Classification’s information for the film warns of “scenes of smoking”, and they’re certainly not kidding. In one sequence, Viggo Mortensen actually appears to fall asleep with a still-burning ciggie between his lips, and not a line of dialogue is delivered unassisted by nicotine plumes.

Overall, very handsome to look at, very well performed, pleasurably enjoyable, but not much more than that and certainly not comparable in terms of lasting quality with Anthony Minghella’s Talented Mr. Ripley.


Written by Ryan Pollard

The_Two_Faces_of_January_film_posterDirected by: Hossein Amini
Written by: Hossein Amini
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac

Released: 2014 / Genre: Thriller / Country: USA/UK / IMDB

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About the Author
Ryan Pollard is a former student of Animation at the University of Huddersfield.

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