The Two Faces of January features two of my favourite actors, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, and strangely enough the trailer I saw, sold this film in a completely different light than the film worked out to be. This being director Hossein Amini’s debut, I rather enjoyed this, but this man is responsible for the screenplays of Drive and Snow White and the Huntsman – two films I have enjoyed in the past. Which admittedly are two different types of film, but if I was to liken this film to either two, it would have to be Drive, considering the thriller aspects in the film.
This film being an adaptation of Patricia Highman’s novel of the same name, unfortunately I would not be able to see the similarities, however that being said, the story involves the more exotic worlds of Greece and Turkey, in the year of 1962. Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette McFarland (Kirsten Dunst) are touring the acropolis, whilst Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is acting as a tour guide to a bunch of a girls, whom he later scams. Curious, Colette tails the young Rydal to find out more information about him, which leads to Rydal taking them around the flea market the following morning. He scams the McFarland’s there with his bogus exchange rates (similar to what he does to the girls earlier), to which a Greek congratulates him on his efforts.
From this moment on the thriller aspect of the film creeps in. During the evening, a private detective locates Chester McFarland and threatens him to pay back the money he owes to people he swindled, otherwise there will be consequences. After a brief scuffle, the private detective is killed and whilst trying to hide the body. Chester is discovered by Rydal who was returning a bracelet to Colette.
Instead of running (Because who wouldn’t be suspicious of a man you’ve just met dragging a lifeless body into a room), Rydal helps. And to make things more suspicious, they leave the hotel room immediately and Chester asks if Rydal knows anyone that can get them passports.
This pretty much happens within the first twenty to thirty minutes. After this is where the film gets interesting due to the effort that Chester, Colette and Rydal go through to keep a low profile. It becomes a tale about paranoia very quickly as Chester watches Rydal and Colette grow closer and Chester as a result, ruffles Colette’s feathers often. But also the deep fear that festers in Colette who assumes everyone looking at her knows she’s on the run.
In all fairness, this is quite a difficult one to write about without giving away the crucial plot points, but I’ll let you know this. It’s more of a crime thriller, with the main themes centred around crime. For example, Chester’s main source of money is conning other people (which causes the private detective to appear) and that is the same for Rydal, as I previously mentioned.
With that being said, there usually isn’t much room for a spectacle side of the film in crime thriller’s, however, Hossein Amini filters in picturesque shots of Greece including the famed Acropolis, but uses the narrow streets of Chania to add to the suspense when Chester in a paranoid-induced frenzy tries to find Rydal and Colette. With a light tint throughout the film, it gives it that rustic time-period feel (but this is also helped with the extensive work in the clothing department).
Amina’s debut makes for an entertaining watch, considering the storyline not being the most riveting in this genre. My fixation on this film is with the characters, the most compelling being Rydal and Chester. They continually battle for the trophy that seems to be Colette, with their alpha-male dominance. The thriller sequences are shot brilliantly, with Amini’s great use of the narrow streets as I mentioned before. The film stands at a mere 96 minutes, but it feels longer, due to the nature of the characters and the long pauses between the story (Such as travelling to the ruins in Knossos sequence). All in all, between the characters, the picturesque shots of Greece and Turkey, Amini’s debut is a delight and a very enjoyable crime thriller, without being anything special within the genre.