Monday, 19 May 2014

The Two Faces of January



The Two Faces of January is an interesting little film written and directed by Hossein Amini, a man best known for penning the script of Drive. Here Amini delivers another taught script set in early 1960s Greece. American tour guide and part time swindler Rydal (Oscar Isaac) gives tours to unsuspecting travellers in the Greek capital Athens and one day comes across an American couple with whom he strikes up conversation and a brief friendship. The tour guide is charmed by the couple and drawn to their wealth and beauty but when it becomes apparent that the couple aren’t quite as well refined and put together as they first appear, Rydal helps them to evade those hunting them before becoming embroiled in their strange and murky circumstances.

There were two things that attracted me to this movie. The first was the name Amini. I was curious to see the screenwriter’s directorial debut and was interested in his script. The second factor was Viggo Mortensen. At this stage in the actor’s career I feel as though I can pretty much trust that if he’s agreed to be in it, it will be good enough to see. Mortensen does indeed impress and his choice of role is once again solid. The movie is about surface and sheen and the attraction that bright and beautiful things hold while under the surface bubbles something more sinister. There’s an uneasy feeling which envelops the film and it stabs through the false surface from time to time in a wonderfully calm but out of control manner.

The plot is interesting and although slow and steady, I was gripped from start to near the finish. It tails off slightly in the third act with a geographical change but the final scene makes up for what is lost immediately before it. For the most part I was entertained and engrossed in the lives of the three central characters and the ever changing facades they put up in front of them. Like a game of chess, the characters attempt to outwit and out manoeuvre one another while keeping the pretence that they’re doing nothing of the sort. One is never sure who is thinking one move ahead and who’s thinking two and half the fun is waiting for the masks to slip and the king to tumble. There’s some great chemistry between Isaac’s Rydel and Kirsten Dunst’s Colette which in turn creates tension between Rydel and Colette’s husband Chester (Mortensen). The saying goes ‘three’s a crowd’ and in this case it’s certainly true. It occasionally becomes uncomfortable with Rydel’s third wheel muscling into the relationship, sometimes accidentally and sometimes very much on purpose.

The locations are stunning and the period costume looks authentic. This is a handsome looking film in every respect and at times that’s half its charm. Despite how interested I was in the movie, it’s not always easy to like but patience and investment certainly pay off in the end. Although it’s Amini’s debut film as a director, his style is assured and competent. He’s no Scorsese or Welles but he can direct a picture and I’m curious to see in what direction he heads next. All three leads give good performances but Viggo Mortensen probably stands out slightly above the other two. This may partly be down to his character but either way he’s fantastic. Overall I enjoyed The Two Faces of January a lot and although there’s nothing in it that makes it an excellent film, it’s certainly a very good one.

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