TWO FACES OF JANUARY, THE
In 1962, con artist Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), and his alluring younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst), arrive in Athens by boat via the Corinthian Canal. While sightseeing at the Acropolis they encounter Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a Greek-speaking American working as a tour guide, scamming tourists on the side. Drawn to Colette's beauty and impressed by Chester's wealth and sophistication, Rydal gladly accepts their invitation to dinner. However, all is not as it seems with the MacFarlands and Chester's affable exterior hides dark secrets. When Rydal visits the couple at their exclusive hotel, Chester presses him to help move the body of a seemingly unconscious man who he claims attacked him. In the moment, Rydal agrees but as events take a more sinister turn he finds himself compromised and unable to pull himself free. His increasing infatuation with the vulnerable and responsive Colette gives rise to Chester's jealousy and paranoia, as the trio go on the run.
Review by Louise Keller:
Looks can be deceiving says Oscar Isaac's small-time conman Rydal to Viggo Mortensen's wealthy and sophisticated Chester, in this seductive psychological thriller of lies, deception and redemption. In his impressive debut feature, Hossein Amini, best known for his screenplay of Drive, has skilfully adapted Patricia Highsmith's novel as he establishes and massages the intricately woven relationships between the three central characters. There are resonances between these and the characters from The Talented Mr Ripley, which Highsmith wrote in 1955, nine years prior. This is a tale filled with secrets and shadows with all the elements coming together serendipitously - good storytelling, layered performances and edge of seat tension to keep us guessing.
It is 1962 and our first glimpse of the elegantly dressed Chester and his pretty wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) at the Parthenon in Athens could have been straight from a Vogue photo shoot. By contrast, Rydal is hard at work, in his capacity as tour guide for an enthusiastic group of tourists. When the threesome connects, things evolve quickly and naturally. Initially, it is the fact that Chester reminds Rydal of his late father that catches his attention. Chester immediately is aware that Rydal is not only conning him, but intuitively senses he is after both his money and his wife. After the establishment of the characters, the unravelling begins quickly when we discover that Chester is not who he seems. Desperation leads to murder. From the comfort of a five star hotel to the remote, barren surrounds of isolated ruins, the journey is a bumpy one.
There is no shortage of tension as Chester and Colette (with Rydal as their guide) try to avoid the police and slip through the net cast for their apprehension. The more remote the location, the further Chester gets from his comfort zone, relying on the escape of whisky excess and sleeping pills. Likewise, Colette's hair reflects her mental state - a sleek bob to a frizzy bird's nest. By contrast, Rydal blossoms. Jealousy rears its ugly head as the relationship between Colette and Rydal develops, albeit mostly off-screen. This is perhaps the film's weakest point: there is no obvious chemistry between the two and the fact that Colette has not at any stage endeared herself to us, there is little at stake. Dunst is always simply an attractive accessory. We are far more interested in the two men and the cat and mouse relationship between them.
Mortensen is always charismatic onscreen and an interesting actor. We always get the feeling there is more to him than meets the eye and the same applies to Chester. Isaac (memorable in Inside Llewyn Davis) is perfectly cast here, his dark features allowing his Greek heritage to be credible and reminiscent at times of a young Al Pacino. It is their relationship and polarising morals that delivers the grit to crystalise the complex pieces of the jigsaw. The scene on the ocean liner in which Mortensen and Isaac sit face to face but not a word of dialogue is spoken is one of the film's most powerful.
The Greek and Turkish settings are stunning and I love the cinematic scene in which the silhouettes of two mountain ranges are shown in different proximity and colours - as if to reflect the two sides of the coin of the game that is being played out.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Admirably teased out of Patricia Highsmith's novel by Iranian-born filmmaker Hossein Amini, the screenplay for The Two Faces of January is complex, satisfying, edgy, and the film is studded with glittering performances. It's the three central performances that define this thriller, with the two men as the 'two faces' - the duality that they represent. (Janus was the god of beginnings and endings for the Romans ...)
Viggo Mortensen as Chester delivers a complex, gritty version of the smooth con man, not so simplistic as to lose all our sympathy, while Oscar Isaac is even grittier and just as textured as Rydal, the small time operator sucked in to a dangerous orbit he can't escape - or control. Kirsten Dunst, playing Colette, the much younger wife is excellent, even though she has less to work with.
The tension that oscillates between them is part of the film's appeal, as the past uncoils and then tightens like a hungry snake around them. Amini is subtle with the attraction between Rydal and Colette, which makes it even more effective, like a dramatic spring wound tight, and the clear, chronological story telling enhances the excitement.
Amini builds his suspense with a steady graduation as the story unfolds, from the casual meeting between the American couple and the Greek tour guide, to the multi-faceted developments. Both men cheat and steal - but at different levels. Both men admire Colette, but from different perspectives. And both men discover their humanity at the feet of defeat.
All the supports are great, and locations are beautifully used and shot around Greece and Turkey, while Alberto Iglesias provides a wonderful score.
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TWO FACES OF JANUARY, THE (TBA)
CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Yigit Özsener, Daisy Bevan, Nikos Mavrakis
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo, Tom Sternberg
DIRECTOR: Hossein Amini
SCRIPT: Hossein Amini (novel by Patricia Highsmith)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Marcel Zyskind
EDITOR: Nicolas Chaudeurge, John Harris
MUSIC: Alberto Iglesias
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Carlin
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Studiocanal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 19, 2014