The Two Faces of January

two-faces-of-january-posterThe Two Faces of January
Hossein Amini

This is an absorbing yet ultimately disappointing film set in a picturesque 1960s southern Europe. It tells the story of a rich American couple, Chester and Colette MacFarland, who are on a grand tour of Europe. In Athens, they meet a young American tour guide, Rydal Keener (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis), who agrees to take them on a tour of the market the following day. Chester (played by an outstanding Viggo Mortensen, Lord of the Rings) is quick to mistrust Rydal, even though we learn that he has earned his own wealth by deceptive means. His wife (Kirsten Dunst, Spiderman) seems sweet and innocently unaware of her husband’s business, but as time passes we learn that she is not as naïve as she first leads us to believe.

Within hours, the trio are tied up in a crime of murder and deception, which they cannot escape, and the tensions and suspicions soon start to unfold. We, the viewer, cannot be sure at first where this is going to take us. There appears to be an undercurrent of sexual attraction between the two men or is it a father/son-like attraction? Colette is drawn to Rydal and he to her, but we’re not certain that this is true for either or both of them.

The film captures a similar mood to The Talented Mr Ripley, by the same author, Patricia Highsmith, with its Mediterranean settings, references to mythology, impeccably dressed rich Americans, yet it fails to capture the same finely layered twists and suspense of that film.

The story doesn’t deliver on being the psychological thriller I expected it to be and the director focuses more of his attentions on the character performances of his cast of three, rather than the plot tensions. Nevertheless, all performances are strong. Oscar Isaac plays a beguiling and credible young man who likes to fleece his clients for money, but in the nicest possible way. Kirsten Dunst is perfect as the charmed wife, but it is Viggo Mortensen’s enigmatic performance, which is most noteworthy. At first his character is charming, flamboyant even, but gradually he is eaten up by his own obsessions: his hunger to hold onto control of his world and his jealousy. His violence is subtle but it is extremely threatening and it is this undercurrent of violence, which drives the tension of the film.

Although I enjoyed the characterisations and the spectacle of the film, I left the cinema slightly disappointed that the plot didn’t build up to much and that the story petered out with no big reveal at the end. As this was a film with classic elements of a ménage à trois, I was expecting to be duped by who was to be believed and sent down several blind alleys. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Visually, the film was stunning and the settings of Athens, Istanbul and Crete set you up well for summer and make you long for a glass of something strong, whilst sitting on a café terrace, overlooking a harbour filled with bobbing boats.

All in all a solid and claustrophobic film, but without the level of suspense and grand dénouement that I was hoping for.

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