The Two Faces Of January Review

The Two Faces of January

Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, first time director Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January is a handsome looking thriller about tourists and holidaymakers getting up to no good in the Mediterranean heat.

For the author’s jazz-drenched Italian Riviera of The Talented Mr Ripley in the 1950’s we now have the sun-scorched hills of the Greek islands the following decade.

Via the feature length Inbetweeners’ Movie portrayal of noughties, STD riddled, Ibiza.

Or so I’m told.

Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) are wealthy holidaymakers who, whilst visiting the Acropolis, happen not upon the Elgin Marbles, but a fellow American tour guide, Rydal, who spends his days fleecing tourists in cahoots with local market traders.

The MacFarland’s invite Rydal, played by Oscar Isaac, for dinner where it becomes clear he is fast developing an infatuation with Colette.

On returning to the hotel, the MacFarlands’ are paid a visit by a private investigator representing numerous investors from back home to which Chester owes money, it seems he is also partial to a spot of swindling.

Things soon get tasty and Chester finds himself lumbered with a corpse who he passes off to Rydal as a drunken hotel guest. Rydal, sensing an opportunity, financial, sexual or both, agrees to help the drunk back to his room.

When it inevitably transpires that the investigator is suffering from a hangover of the ‘fatal blow administered to the head’ kind, Rydal is coerced by Chester into using his local knowledge to assist the MacFarlands’ in making good their escape to the Island of Crete.

What follows is essentially a three-part road movie where the whiskey loving Chester slowly begins to unravel, opening up cracks in the marriage as his wife becomes increasingly angry at the depths of her husband’s capacity for wrongdoing. Colette looks to Rydal for comfort.

Rydal in turn, is consumed with the desire to make money, screw Colette and safeguard his freedom.

I vaguely recall feeling exhausted upon seeing The Talented Mr Ripley, a sophisticated but overly long psychological thriller in a similar vein. In contrast The Two Faces of January is frustratingly short, with principal characters left under-explored.

The viewer never gets to discover a motivation for the character of Rydal and his relationship with Collette. Indeed we learn nothing of Colette’s character throughout, save that she knows only a little of her husband’s shenanigans.

Chester seems far too sophisticated to get embroiled in such a relationship with a chancer like Rydal, who doesn’t do a great deal to disguise his intentions.

That said the performances are all good, Dunst’s exasperation with her husband is palpable yet the real chemistry is between the always watchable Mortensen and Isaac, each entirely untrusting, yet becoming utterly dependant of the other.

As you would expect from the production team responsible for the screen adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy, Amini’s film is highly atmospheric and artfully rendered with the tension building nicely towards its dénouement.

So whilst The Two Faces of January is an enjoyable if frustrating film I found myself primarily concerned for the author of the original story.

Hoping that at some point during her life she had been able to enjoy a pleasant, uneventful trip to Europe where she was able to explore its myriad cultural delights without being seduced by an unstable rogue, murdered by a repressed sociopath, relieved of her spending money by a handsome tour guide or given a dodgy pill by a shaven-headed nightclub bouncer.

Frank Gardiner

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Dates ‘n stuff

May 2014