Another hearty “Hello!” to all readers! If you have come off of reading my initial review from today of the complete disaster (as always, just MY opinion) that was “Life of Crime“, then perhaps this review will seem a bit more palatable, especially since this second independent offering I viewed (thanks to an On Demand debut almost a month ahead of the official 09/26/2014 theatrical release) was a DECIDEDLY more positive experience! And so I present to you…..”The Two Faces of January”.
The major film directorial debut by prolific writer Hossein Amini (“Drive“, “Snow White & The Huntsman“, “47 Ronin“), “The Two Faces of January” is based on the novel of the same name by author Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley“, “Ripley’s Game“) and takes us to 1962 Athens, Greece, where we are first introduced to a tour guide, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), leading a group around the ruins of the Parthenon, and then a couple doing their own tour of the same area, Chester & Colette McFarland (Viggo Mortensen & Kirsten Dunst) to whom Rydal’s attention is ultimately directed to when he spots them after his tour has been completed as well as later on while on a “date” at a local café with one of the tour group members, Lauren (Daisy Bevan). Curious about why Rydal is watching them, Colette takes it upon herself to find out some basic information about him while they are all in the same location. Upon finding out said information, circumstances ultimately lead to Rydal striking up a minor friendship with the pair, each party trying to find out more about the other through the myriad of random conversations they are having. Rydal offers himself as a guide to a local market the next day and continues to learn more and more about Chester and his wife, whom at this point have been at least revealed as a very well-off pair due to Chester’s investment banking position back in New York. Later that evening, an unexpected and, we see, unwelcome visitor (David Warshofsky) comes to the McFarland’s hotel room, and when the situation takes an ugly turn, Chester is left with a decision to make that then ALSO unexpectedly draws Rydal into the entire mess, as soon Rydal realizes that there is far more about Chester that he is becoming aware of, and that past business dealings and mistakes Chester has made are coming back to haunt him. Deciding to assist the couple while trying to make a few extra dollars along the way, Rydal’s involvement with them becomes more and more complicated, as his noticing of Colette, Chester’s growing anger & suspicions about it, and Colette’s gradual separation FROM Chester is topped off with the desperation they ALL have about the circumstances that don’t seem to have a positive outcome. When the growing paranoia leads to yet another fatal choice, it then places Rydal and Chester on a final spiral where the men make decisions that place them in harm’s way, as they both try to out maneuver the other in hopes of getting out of the events unscathed. More and more their true nature’s are revealed as the tale comes to it’s conclusion, reflecting as often is the case, that envy, obsession, and other factors do not lead to favorable places. More specifics constitute spoilers and therefore, thus ends this portion of the review.
Right off the bat, one of the first things I loved about this film was the pacing. Clocking in at a brisk 96 minutes, there really isn’t any room for dilly dally, and that serves a story like this well in my opinion. It gives enough time for characters to be introduced and developed enough where you can get into them without having TOO much information being thrown at you that might cause an over saturation of detail. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE stories where that kind of deeper exploration IS needed and welcomed, but this was not one of those cases, and again, it did not occur. I love Viggo Mortensen, as overall, he tends to just bring this certain level of intensity and presence to the roles he plays, often in the same way I feel in regard to fellow actor Ed Harris. Chester is one slick, suave, and yet ultimately morally bankrupt individual on many levels, and Mortensen successfully brings that out without it being overtly complex. His calculation of a situation, whether right or wrong, is ultimately based on a simple need to survive and continue the life choices he’s made. Similarly, Oscar Isaac’s Rydal is much the same kind of person as Chester, even if a LITTLE less morally compromised than Chester, but still just as calculating and smooth operating, even though in this story’s situation, he becomes obsessed and involved with the wrong things and gets in a bit over his head. I will say I enjoyed this character for Isaac much more than I did his Llewyn Davis in “Inside Llewyn Davis” which I reviewed back in January. Kirsten Dunst, for me, is actually a better actress than people give her credit for, and I thought she was a solid choice to play Colette. I cannot say she necessarily MATCHED the overall quality of acting that Isaac and Mortensen provided, but that is not faulting her performance here either. Colette was ultimately a pawn caught in the middle of a mess her husband was in, and that sense of frustration at wanting to simply get OUT of the trouble and get on with life came across well in Dunst’s character. In conclusion, a very well put together thriller, and being the first directorial effort by Amini, I must say I do hope he gets other chances as time goes by. As has been more often the case than not to date for me, independent cinema keeps offering these opportunities to see actors take the chance on something smaller in scope, but more character-driven and focused in content. And that is still a refreshing change to have every once in a while.
As always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!