If you have recently quit smoking I would stay far away from The Two Faces of January. Set in the 1960’s, director Hossein Amini obviously decided that alongside the fashion choices of his central characters, the best way to depict the time period was to make sure that every character spent at least 3 quarters of the movie with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth. Based off of a novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (who’s novels have previously provided the base for films like The Talented Mr Ripley) this is a film that oozes style and class, plus a hell of a lot of smoke.
Following Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Collette (Kirstin Dunst) as they tour Greece, this movie is almost as beautifully shot as the people that inhabit it. However, things begin to go wrong after some business deals catch up with Chester and they are forced to turn to Rydal (Oscar Isaac) for help. Rydal’s position as highly educated tour guide come con-man insures that we are never entirely sure what his motives for helping this couple are. Is it all for the money? Or is it because of his obvious attraction to Collette?
It’s not only the smoking that makes this thriller feel old fashioned, but also the plot and the performances within it. Mortensen shows why he is the critically acclaimed actor he is in his portrayal of a man who constantly wants the world to believe he is on top of things, even as it is falling down around him. While Issac continues his recent assault on the acting hierarchy – that has now seen him cast in Star Wars – with a suitably vulnerable performance as the young American con man with a troubled past. The only disappointment comes from Dunst, not actually for her performance, but more for the weakness of her character. She play’s the stereotypical wife who is happy to turn a blind eye when everything is going great, but the second things begin to turn a bit sour is suddenly off flirting with the tour guide.
The Two Faces of January is not a classic film, despite it often feeling like one, and it’s unlikely to stand long in your memory. Yet there is no denying that while you are watching it is easy to get caught up in this suspenseful thriller. It won’t go down as having any great twists or hair raising moments but the central performances insure that this old fashioned tale comes to life. It is a beautifully shot movie filled with beautiful people living in a world which the normal person will never have access too, ensuring that as a bit of escapism, this movie works just fine.