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The Two Faces Of January

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Released: 16th May 2014

Directed By: Hossein Amini

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Rohan Morbey

Halfway through The Two Faces of January I couldn’t help but be reminded of the great Anthony Minghella film The Talented Mr Ripley for the similarities are many; Americans abroad in the 1960s, a man who is not what he seems on face value, temptations, hidden pasts, lies, murder, and an attractive cast to boot. As the credits rolled I saw it was indeed based on a novel by the same author, Patricia Highsmith, and aside from giving myself a mental ‘pat on the back’ it helped in my realisation of why this film is so very good. If you liked the Minghella film, then you’ll certainly like this, too.

After all, what is there not to enjoy? Beautiful locations, great acting, 1960s sensibilities (no one using Google to solve their issues here, thank you very much), and a plot which never spells out what is about to happen mean that if you like your thrillers slow, patient, clever, and full of twists then this is the film for you.

I will not spoil the plot and twists for you as I think it makes sense to go into the film knowing as little as possible (like most films to be honest) but I was drawn in by the cast alone, prepared to take on whatever they gave me. Chester (Viggo Mortesen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst) are a wealthy married couple visiting Greece when they meet Rydal, a young man (Oscar Isaac) who is somewhat fixated by the resemblance of Chester to his own father. When the couple get in trouble they turn to Rydal for help as they do not speak Greek and have no other option, but what Rydal’s motives are for helping them we are not sure, and an uneasy, nervous, and anxious journey to another Greek island begins.

At 96 minutes the film is a slow burn, yet wastes no time in getting into the crux of the story whilst never placing thrills over character. There’s my favourite word when discussing film, ‘character’, and this film focuses on three people who I never really trusted from the moment they are brought together; their actions are sometimes desperate, sometimes spiteful, sometimes deadly, but always convincing. This is a slight thriller so don’t expect global situations and men on phones making world-altering decisions, or people hanging off of window ledges or driving really fast down a one-way street. The thrills lie in the unknown, in the ‘what is his motive?’ and twists which I for one never saw coming.

This is screenwriter Hossein Amini’s first stab at directing and I think he’s chosen a perfect vehicle to test and prove himself. A small, character-led story with no computer generated nonsense to get in the way of allowing his cast to do what they need to do; in other words the complete opposite of what Wally Pfister did in Transcendence.

I like films such as The Two Faces Of January because they appear to be getting made less and less these days. It won’t set your cinematic world on fire nor will it be debated and discussed by film sites and blogs for months on end, and therein lies its appeal. It’s just a good, solid, low-key thriller and it delivers on every front without aiming for the stars and failing miserably. What more can you ask for?

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