“The Two Faces of January” will be playing theatrically in Houston at Sundance Cinemas starting today. The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst.
Based on the novel of the same name by author Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”), “The Two Faces of January” takes place in 1962 and stars Oscar Isaac as a tour guide named Rydal. Rydal resides in Athens, Greece. He’s very good at what he does and is even able to skim little chunks of money from tourists from time to time to make a decent living. A vacationing couple known as the MacFarlands catch Rydal’s eye. He is immediately drawn to the young woman named Colette (Kirsten Dunst) while her older husband Chester (Viggo Mortensen) reminds Rydal of his recently deceased father.
Chester is in over his head with the con-artist scheme he’s pulling in order to live the luxurious life that he does. Rydal accidentally stumbles onto the terrible secret Chester is attempting to keep buried. An act of kindness on Rydal’s part turns into a more sinister deed. Lust and greed quickly evolves into becoming an accomplice for murder. The freedom of this law-fleeing trio is suddenly at stake.
The symphonic score of “The Two Faces of January” immediately establishes this Alfred Hitchcock-type feel for the film. The heavy strings only seem to intensify an already tense and nail-biting atmosphere. Tension is only heightened by pounding drums and recoiling string arrangements. First time director Hossein Amini (writer of “Drive”) really makes you sweat in his debut.
Purely functioning on jealousy and deception as nourishment, “The Two Faces of January” is an ongoing conflict between Rydal and Chester. Not only are they competing for the same woman, but the entire film makes you question who is conning who. The film portrays both Rydal and Chester as shady individuals and just as you attempt to choose a side something else is revealed about that specific character to change your opinion. Chester is clearly the more dangerous of the two, but Rydal often takes the advantage because he’s underestimated. Viggo Mortensen is able to convey how paranoid Chester is extremely well while Oscar Isaac is like the sports team playing a home game; he’s able to utilize his surroundings to their maximum potential since he’s so familiar with the location.
On the downside the film comes off as a promotional advertisement for a cigarette brand that is never revealed or just smoking in general. The characters, especially Chester, smoke and light up nearly every time they’re shown on screen. It’s likely just a statement on the time period of the film, but it’s quite noticeable how often tobacco is enjoyed. It also seems like everyone in Athens has a Zippo lighter handy for any occasion.
Kirsten Dunst is rather dull with her portrayal of Colette. She seemed to take her career to a different level after “Melancholia,” but she’s just kind of there going through the motions in “The Two Faces of January.” While Chester and Rydal have unusual character traits that make them fascinating, Colette comes off as a young girl who married into money because she always dreamed of being rich. She now regrets the consequences, does nothing but complain about it, and is indecisive with the two men currently in her life pulling her in opposing directions.
A man who’s so worried about another man’s actions is likely guilty himself. On the other hand, another man can only ignore his desires for so long. Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac stuff a great deal of depth and quite a bit of intrigue into two very selfish individuals. The score is astonishingly good and the Hitchcock feel only enhances its appeal. “The Two Faces of January” is a stylish and riveting thriller full of suspense where the boundaries of the deranged fragments of the mind are pushed beyond their breaking point.