1962. A glamorous American couple, the charismatic Chester MacFarland (Mortensen) and his alluring younger wife Colette (Dunst), arrive in Athens by boat via the Corinth Canal. While sightseeing at the Acropolis they encounter Rydal (Isaac), a young, Greek-speaking American who is 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 darker 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, leading to a tense and ... Written by
When Chester asks the detective if he was a Marine, the detective says "Yes" and that he was happy when he left Europe after the war. Although some believe the Marines were not in Europe during World War II, there were several units deployed there for security and guard duty (the US Embassy in London being one example), and to support Operation Overlord (the invasion at Normandy). They were also used by the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, for covert missions in Europe during the war. Thus the detective could have easily seen service in Europe during the war. See more »
Hossein is the same writer of amazing films such as "Wings Of The Dove" (1999) and "Drive" (2011), but at the same time he contributed to some not so amazing ones like "Snow White and The Huntsman" (2012) and the weak "47 Ronin" (2013). So chances were quite good that the production qualities would be somewhat uncertain, even being based on Patricia Highsmith's novel, the same author of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999), amazingly adapted by Anthony Minghella and one of the finest movies of his career.
After Minghella's adaptation, which was praised by everyone for its outstanding visual and technical qualities, and his skills to develop the story as a captivating and progressive dramatic thriller, also including a character that does not exist in the book that instead of negatively change the course of the story only increased the hitchcockian tone he gave to the plot, Hollywood didn't produced anything like that since then.
When people watch the trailer of "The Two Faces of January" some honorable resemblances to Minghella's adaptation of Highsmith's Ripley will pop, and strong comparisons will be inevitable. That's what I felt, so my expectations were high. The attempts to repeat the same successful formula were so evident that one of the executive producers is Max Minghella, son of the late director.
Really, the comparisons cannot be avoided, but rather to become nostalgic references or even an excellent opportunity to honor Minghella and his merits achieved by one of his greatest works, "Two Faces Of January" becomes a very frustrating experience in many aspects.
The condensed narrative, the thrilling moments involving the unknown past of each one of the characters and some key events that occur within the first half hour conducted by Alberto Iglesias music (with great references to Bernard Herrmann's in Psycho) clearly lead and prepare the viewer to a thrilling expected atmosphere. But unfortunately the robustness presented loses strength when the story achieves a shallow plateau that forgets to explore the past of each one of the characters as well as never taking truly advantage of their personal psychological conflicts as happen in the book, especially Rydal, the main character.
The title is a reference to Janus, a roman god with two faces, guardian of the transitions, doors, decisions and the beginning. One face looks to the past and the other to the future. This mythical figure represents the reckoning that Rydal is about to face and the dangerous decisions he will have to take. Also, the story take place in early January, which also means a new beginning in popular culture. In the book Highsmith makes clear those associations with the title when Rydal feels a strange and painful resemblance between Chester and his late father, and between Colette and a girl he was madly in love when a teenager. The transference he makes of these two strong figures of his life to Chester and Colette is what leads Rydal keeps himself close to them in the unconscious quest to solve his traumatic relationship with his hateful father and also try to continue an interrupted love interest he had in the past.
But in the movie, none of this fundamental matters are explored the way it should. There are only brief moments that loosely make clear Chester's resemblances to Rydal's late father but no major developments about that is given to clarify the reasons why the love-hate relationship grows so strong between them. Hossein makes it feels like all the love-hate relationship is because they share the same love interest: Colette. On the contrary of the psychological thriller that the book is, the movie makes it all a common passion crime flick, with silly police chasings, love triangle in the simplest possible way exploiting a naive Colette that does not exist, since the book makes reference to her recurring infidelity. The result is an empty movie with a trite ending that makes entire plot feels redundant rather than being Rydal's final journey in search for absolution over his most inner conflicts.
Even developing an excellent job, Viggo Mortensen has his talent wasted here because of the forgettable film that it strikingly is. Kirsten Dunst seems to not yet have learned how to be sophisticated without always look like a college student, and as always, her best moments are when her character is under pressure. Wasted are also the locations in Greece and Turkey instead of doing the same thing Minghella did when making all the exuberance within the Italian landscapes an extra mix of beauty and soft cruelty in "The Talented Mr. Ripley". Oscar Isaac has impressive moments, perhaps because he did know the original work and also that his character is much more complex than the script provided, but for the viewer that is poorly cleared thru the 96 minutes, the attitudes of his character will feel just like an empty and romantically misplaced fixation without any coherent foundation.
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