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The Two Faces of January is a gripping and highly watchable film which
I would highly recommend. Set in the sixties, it is undeniably "old
school" a twisted tale of murder, treachery and double-dealing, based
on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, where you half expect Alfred
Hitchcock to appear in cameo at some point.
Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) and Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman) play Chester and Colette Macfarland a rich and affluent couple touring the sites and sounds of Europe, with us first catching up with them in a glorious looking Athens.
Appearing to be relaxed and happy together, they hide a dark secret that is about to catch up with them. Oscar Isaac so fabulous in Finding Llewyn Davis earlier this year, and about to hit mega-stardom in the Star Wars reboot plays American rogue Rydal, who seems to stare intently at Chester. Is he part of the impending storm, or just an innocent caught up in events he can't control? Tensions rise, not just because of the plot pressures but also because of the obvious sexual tension growing between the charismatic Rydal and Chester's lovely and much younger wife.
The compelling story albeit somewhat predictable in places takes in some fabulously atmospheric locations in Athens, Crete and Istanbul.
This is the feature directorial debut of Iranian-born Hossein Amini, who also wrote the screenplay this being his forte have written a range of films including Drive and Snow White and the Huntsman. And what a good job he does, orchestrating location, lighting and music to great effect. Some of the editing is also very tight, cutting away from scenes at crucial points to maintain the story's mystery.
The trio of actors also bring great star power to their roles. Mortensen and Dunst are very watchable, but it is Isaac that again really shines in his role. In turns enchanting, brooding and cowed like a cornered animal, he plays the perfect James Stewart character in this Hitchcockian homage.
In the coming blitzkrieg of summer blockbusters, here is a jewel of a film that will be particularly enjoyed by older viewers who remember when story and location were put far ahead of CGI-based special effects.
(If you found this review helpful, please see my other reviews and 'Follow the Fad' at bobmann447.wordpress.com. Thanks.).
I agree with an earlier reviewer that this film derives much of its effect from being set in 1962. The period feel is beautifully communicated and the plot needs to work itself out in a world where places like Athens, Crete and Istanbul were not just exotic but isolated, where holidaying Americans would still be surprised and interested to meet other Americans, and people on the run could hope to hide away. The chemistry between the three leads, who are all well played, does lack fizz and there is a clumsy and rather hackneyed third act. But the film is never less than engaging and all the better for not resorting to surprise twists. The music tries too hard to be exciting, almost as if the director thinks the visuals need some extraneous help to keep the audience interested. I think he is wrong - there is enough going on here, including some fine acting and cinematography, to appeal to audiences who like films with substance, a trajectory, and a sound sense of place and time.
If this movie had been made back in mid-century when Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Donen and Billy Wilder were at their peak, it probably wouldn't get much attention. But given we're in an age where Transformers XVI is a possibility, a movie like this--taut, suspenseful, well-acted, well- written, is kind of a marvel. It doesn't promise a lot: there are no special effects, the plot twists aren't terribly surprising; in fact, nothing in the movie really surprises. But it's all so seamlessly put together, so pleasingly directed, and shot with such loving attention to the scenery, Two Faces is a real delight. Don't come with great expectations--come simply for the pure entertainment of what a movie can be when everything in it works well. (Also, it's based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, so you know that if nothing else, there will be sophistication and wit.)
Adapted by its director, Hossein Amini, from a little known novel by Patricia Highsmith "The Two Faces of January" turns out to be a highly satisfying tale of murder most foul very typical of Miss Highsmith. OK, so it's not on the same level as "The Talented Mr Ripley", "Plein Soleil" or "Strangers on a Train" but with its emphasis on plot rather than 'action' it's still a cut above a good many of today's so-called thrillers. Also typical of Highsmith is that the principal relationship in the film is between two men, (though one of them is married while the other starts to fall for the wife). The married one is Viggo Mortensen, apparently rich and touring Greece but also harboring a dark secret. The wife is pert little Kirsten Dunst and the man who falls for her is tour guide Oscar Issac. At first Issac thinks he has the upper hand, swindling Mortensen out of a few thousand dollars only to realize quite early in their relationship that he has bitten off more than he can chew. After awhile Dundst's character becomes almost redundant as the men start to play power games with each other. Whereas the male/male relationships in other Highsmith adaptations were mostly homo-erotic with at least one of the characters clearly drawn as gay. Here the relationship is meant to evoke a father and a son, (Issac's character has issues with his dead father). This slightly dilutes the dark heart of the picture. Movies like "The Talented Mr Ripley" and "Strangers on a Train" worked as well as they did because the villain was clearly homosexual and psychopathic and you never knew where his temper and jealous rages might take him. In this movie Mortensen is undoubtedly the jealous straight guy while Issac is just too nice, (he's too sweet to be a real con-man). Still, all three leading players are excellent and Amini tightens the screws very nicely as the film progresses. Filmed, for the most part, in Greece it will also prove something of a boost for the Greek Tourist Board this summer.
Seems to me this is as accurate a portrayal of 'competitive' dishonesty as you'll ever see. Viggo Mortensen sets the scene beautifully in a subtle early reference that he's not all that he seems. Dunst playing an ingénue caught up in the lies and deceits of more or less everyone around her also shows a progressive development into to something less than honest. One senses that all is not going to end well - but who will win out? Early emotional allegiances with your 'favourite' character will soon have you questioning your own judgement. What, if anything, would you do....? Eventually, with relentless inevitability, events turn sour - you cannot predict in which way until the action unfolds. Terrific, enthralling and tense story telling at a slow stroll. Fantastic. Go see!
Film opens at the Parthenon in Athens. A young male guide, played by
Oscar Isaac, is guiding some impressionable girls. An older couple
enter the scene. The male, played by Viggo Mortensen, is mature. His
younger wife, played by Kirsten Dunst, looks like Doris Day. Thus we
seem catapulted into the Hitchcock era. Film is in fact set in 1962,
and all scenes seem authentic.
A central theme of far too many Hitchcock films to list, is that of an innocent man caught up in events over which he has no control. In this film, however, we quickly find that Mr Mortensen's character is no innocent. He is, however, quickly thrust into events that are out of his control.
Within the central trio of characters, it is unclear what are their individual motives, or, who is trying to con who. The sexual chemistry and tensions remind of 'Knife in the Water' (1962).
Film is a true Hitchcockian-style suspense movie rather than a thriller. As the tension rises so does the music, which also is pure Hitchcockian, and could easily have been lifted in great chunks from one or more of his movies.
As the tension rises, so too does the pace. From the start, the film moves at a decent pace, but this builds as the film progresses, and the pace gets faster and faster. Great camera shots, great chases, and iconic scenes, also suggest homage to 'The Third Man (1949).
All location shooting was superb. This reviewer, once attempting to follow in the footsteps of Plato, got lost in the mountains, and had to be rescued by shepherds. So it was with a fond familiarity that I saw those same mountains.
One explanation for the Hitchcockian-feel to the movie can be explained by the fact that the film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1951 film 'Strangers on a Train' was also based on a novel by Miss Highsmith. Thus perhaps it may be more accurate to describe the feel and touch of the movie as Highsmithian rather than Hitchcockian. Miss Highsmith is also the origin of the 'Ripley' stories.
This flawless and faultless masterpiece of a film, is the first full-length film directed by Hossein Amini. He also wrote the screenplay.
This film will appeal to all, though the 12A certificate means that it is unsuitable for young children. Suitable for all others, it is very suitable, and it will be very much appreciated, by classicists and Hitchcock fans.
A masterpiece! 10/10!
A compelling throwback to the suspenseful thrillers of 60 years ago, Two Faces of January is as stylish a film as you will see from any decade since talkies began. Reminiscent of Hitchcock in his 1950's pomp, but without the melodrama, writer director Hossein Amini's interpretation of Patricia Highsmith's novel is beautiful to look at. The European locations evoke an idealised period of foreign travel, yet the film has an underbelly that scrapes the surface of gritty realism in the way that Hitchcock did not. The result is an involving slow burn with flashes of action only when warranted. The heart of the film is the evolving relationship between its three stars, who quickly become tied together. No McGuffins here, only solid plotting and convincing events used effectively to advance the story. The central performances are compelling and highly accomplished. Oscar Isaac must now be on the verge of the A-list after following Llewyn Davis with his excellent turn here, and Kirsten Dunst steps out of the shadow of teen movies and blockbuster love interest with a beguiling performance in the role of Colette. But Mortensen is the emotional engine whose misfiring character, MacFarland, pushes the plot forward with stuttering steps. His performance should be considered a career best as he embraces all of MacFarland's flaws and lays them bare for the audience to great emotional effect. After such an assured and beautifully realised performance behind the camera, there can be little doubt that Hossein Amini's future is likely to be in the director's chair, and his next project should be awaited with keen anticipation.
I have to applaud Hosseini's directorial debut. "The Two Faces Of
January" takes us mostly to the 1960's Greece, with three main
characters in focus.
Beautifully shot, this visually stunning period-piece (if I can call it that) relies on story and characters rather than trying to impress with extravagant plot twists and special effects. The narrative is very well balanced and restrained from the hyperactive traps of modern cinematic storytelling.
Good acting from everyone involved and my compliments to the music composer too, for providing a very fitting soundtrack.
This is classic film making. Nothing innovative but very beautiful to look at, a fitting choice to watch on a lonely evening.
An old school, Hitchcockian style thriller from the writer behind Drive, The Two Faces of January commences with sexy, mysterious intrigue, but slowly dovetails into a soggy noodle. Shot against the glorious, sun-drenched Greek landscape by cinematographer Marcel Zyskind and boasting immaculate costume and set design befitting its 1960s period, January looks a million bucks, yet this can't cover up the fact the final hour is bland and devoid of tension. One of the finest (and underrated) actors of our generation, Oscar Isaac is once again astounding despite his failing surrounds, here portraying the smooth, enigmatic operator who gets in over his head when he witnesses a crime by an attractive American couple. As the wealthy tourists with a secret, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen are another major weakness, the duo sharing zero spark together and Mortensen in particular possessing all the charisma of a plank of wood. It's a noble directorial debut from screenwriter Hossein Amini, but remains a missed opportunity in a subgenre not visited nearly enough.
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
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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