The Two Faces of January

Written and Directed by Hossein Amini

Starring Oscar Isaac, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst
In UK Cinemas Friday May 16th, 2014

by Joanna Orland

For his directorial debut, screenwriter Hossein Amini (Drive) chose to write and direct an adaptation of author Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Two Faces of January.  On the surface, this film closely resembles another adaption of a Patricia Highsmith novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley which was directed by the deceased Anthony Minghella.  Not only does the mood and tone of January strongly resemble Mr. Ripley, but it even has a Minghella involved in the form of Anthony’s son Max as executive producer.  The narrative and reality surrounding this film exude themes of disappointing father-son relationships.

Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a multi-lingual American con artist who makes his living in Athens by conning tourists and guiding tours.  He stumbles upon the married couple Colette (Kirsten Dunst) and Chester (Viggo Mortensen) Macfarland who quickly warm to Rydal and take him on as their tour guide.  Rydal is fascinated and drawn to Chester as he sees a strong resemblance to his own father who recently passed, and whose funeral he regrettably did not attend.  There are many drawn out scenes of Rydal brooding over Chester while Chester is convinced Rydal is obsessing over wife Colette.

Due to a bizarre twist of fate, Chester and Colette are on the run from the police with Rydal offering his guidance and support to see them safely out of Greece.  Tensions build within the dynamic as Rydal and Colette grow closer, alienating Chester, who all the while appears to be the true subject of Rydal’s affection.  But this is merely on the surface as while the central theme of the film focuses on the father-son relationship and all of the complications that are inherit to it, Rydal does actually have an attraction to Colette.  One that is not explored or obvious, and one that is one of the major flaws and plot holes of this film.

I could use another paragraph or two to further discuss plot holes that overwhelm this script, but I suppose an audience is willing to suspend some belief to forgive a character’s occasional inexplicable behaviour.  What is less forgivable however, are weepy soundtracks and stunted performances.  The music throughout this film is constant and offensive.  It fully detracts from the otherwise well set mood piece.  The performances also feel stunted in this film, likely due to the director being from a screenwriting background rather than a background where one would work with coaching actors.  Communicating with a piece of paper is very different to communicating with an actor.  Viggo Mortensen is particularly stunted in his performance, making it seemingly possible that he is  past his professional peak in the film industry.

Kirsten Dunst is enjoyable to watch even without an amazing character for her to work with, but Oscar Isaac gives the best performance out of the three leads, only due to the fact that he has a captivating face.  Lines are still stunted and characters are not empathetic, but Oscar is still a star in the making.  Rydal may not be to Oscar Isaac what Mr. Ripley was to Matt Damon, but his performance in Inside Llewyn Davis is solid enough that this less than amazing performance can slip by.

Overall, The Two Faces of January isn’t the worst film currently in cinemas, but it is much weaker than it should be given the talent on board.  You’ll be better off re-watching The Talented Mr. Ripley.

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