1 Hr., 36 Mins.
The Two Faces of January September 21, 2014
With a love triangle, a couple of murders, sparkling locales, and an overall look that resembles a Vogue photo shoot, The Two Faces of January is a sleek, nearly old-fashioned thriller that begins with cool menace and ends with violent catharsis. Adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, the film is conspicuously Hitchcockian, which is no surprise: Strangers on a Train was taken from the pages of a Highsmith work as well.
There are only three principal actors — Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Issac — and so the landscape, which includes the vast likes of Greece and Istanbul, is claustrophobic and seem to be lined with imminent death. Having just a trio of characters to look towards makes it even more ominous.
Set in the early 1960s, the film follows Chester and Colette McFarland (Mortensen and Dunst), a swanky married couple touring Greece. They come across and befriend a guide, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), and as they see the sights together and converse among expensive glasses of wine, Colette and Rydal develop an attraction to one another.
Then one night, Chester is confronted by a contract killer — we find out that he and Colette are con artists on vacation — and in return, Chester accidentally murders his would-be killer. Rydal sees him in the act of hiding the body and inevitably helps him, not knowing the entire situation. As the truth is slowly exposed, the three go on the run from their pasts, the police, and their romantic tensions.
The Two Faces of January doesn’t end on a very happy note, but yet again, not very many movies that have two accidental deaths do. The film is the directorial debut of Hossein Amini, a screenwriter with some impressive credits in his background (Drive, The Wings of the Dove). For a rookie, the results are quite impressive. Amini manages to keep things rough around the edges while keeping the insides shimmering but dangerous, like a vodka on the rocks.
But like most of Highsmith’s novels, there are no characters who are completely sympathetic; she prefers to show the ugliest sides of people, however beautiful they may be. The film keeps her ideas intact. Mortensen plays a man who has depended on crime to survive yet is surprised at his own capabilities of monstrosity; Dunst has a Tippi Hedren vulnerability; and Isaac’s decent-guy-in-the-middle-of-a-terrible-situation portrayal is how it should be: acutely confused but also a little shaky when it comes to judgement.
Among the cigarettes, the hard liquor, the jealousies, The Two Faces of January just comes to show that a world of emptiness can turn into a hall of mirrors with just the snap of a finger. B