The Two Faces of January - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
STYLISHLY shot and nicely acted, Hossein Amini’s directorial debut The Two Faces of January is an absorbing character study wrapped within a murder that grips from start to finish.
Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, the film is beautifully shot in Greece and on Crete and driven by two terrific central performances from Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac.
Set in 1960, the film picks up as American tour guide and swindler Rydal (Isaac) meets charismatic American traveller Chester MacFarland (Mortensen) and his beautiful wife Colette (Kristen Dunst).
By turns intrigued and smitten by this couple, Rydal soon finds himself drawn into their world as an unwitting accomplice once Chester kills a private investigator sent after him to recover money he has embezzled.
Thereafter, this new trio head to Crete to lie low and make good their escape only to find their loyalties tested by paranoia and suspicion concerning each other’s motives.
Amini’s film is a tightly written potboiler that thrives on the complexity of the performances. Neither Rydal nor Chester are particularly good men but watching them attempt to keep one step ahead of each other makes for engrossing viewing.
Mortensen has the showier of the roles and is genuinely enigmatic as Chester, but Isaac builds on a run of good work (including Drive and most notably Inside Llewyn Davis) to bring a liveability to Rydal that makes you root for him to do the right thing and not get screwed over in the process.
Dunst, for her part, is solid as the object of both men’s affections but hers is arguably the least well written role.
Amini’s direction, meanwhile, makes the most of its stunning Greek locations but ensures the performers are the main focal point and nicely builds on the simmering tension while delivering a suitably exciting climax.
What’s more, by refusing to spoon-feed his audience he also ensures they depart the film with plenty to mull over once the dust has settled… his Greek locations adding extra gravitas to some of the tragedy that unfolds.
Running time: 96mins
UK Release Date: May 16, 2014