In Review: The Two Faces of January

by Maryann O'Connor on 16/05/2014


Starring man of the moment Oscar Isaac (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are also in there), adapted from the novel written by Patricia ‘intrigue and swindle are my middle names’ Highsmith and directed by Drive (2011) writer Hossein Amini, The Two Faces of January definitely has good form in my book.

Rydal Keener (Oscar Isaac) likes conning people and so does Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen, so they are not destined to become the best of friends when they meet in Athens, in the year of 1962. The only thing they both seem to agree on is a liking for stereotypical wife character Colette MacFarland (Kirsten Dunst). When ‘something bad happens’, Rydal gets roped into helping Chester evade the authorities and, while keeping madam in the dark, the three of them travel out of the big city limelight to remote greek island territory. The beauty of their surroundings fails to lighten the mood, the situation becoming ever more dire and desperate as time moves on and the trap begins to close…

The resolution of all the skulduggery is unexpectedly low-key. Anyone looking for a psychopath on the scale of The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) would be disappointed by The Two Faces of January, but the two films do share some lovely qualities; a pleasing attention to detail and devotion to good old-fashioned film making. They also share a lack of obvious hero, which is always a refreshing change. Some may scoff at this, but the set-up wouldn’t be out of place in a Hitchcock film: we have the blonde but stylish sacrifice, muchos skulduggery and people being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It pains me to say that Kirsten Dunst was the weakest link but that doesn’t make it any less true. Could her recent comments concerning a woman’s role in society have bled into the writing of her character and dulled it to the point of could-have-been-played-by-any-actress blandness? Considering Drive’s lack of any female character who didn’t need to be saved, Hossein Amini really doesn’t seem to be the go-to person for well-rounded tales of empowerment. The film has a good pace and exchanges between the treacherous duo are enjoyable, but that lopsided development of the characters stops it from being a memorable thriller. Tis a shame.

Maryann has awarded The Two Faces of January three Torches of Truth

three torches


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