Review: THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 15 September 2014


3 stars
3 stars
Blessed with a trio of fine performances, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY is decent, if unremarkable Hitchcockian thriller.

The late famous female author Patricia Highsmith was no stranger for delivering some of her widely-known psychological thriller novels that led to numerous critically-acclaimed movie adaptations. Among the most famous ones of course were Alfred Hitchcock's classic masterpiece of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN back in 1951 and Anthony Mingella's version of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY in 1999. Her other book, such as The Two Faces of January which originally published in 1964, was considered one of her lesser-known works but still managed to make it through as a source of inspiration for acclaimed screenwriter Hossein Amini's (JUDE, THE WINGS OF THE DOVE, DRIVE) directorial debut in the movie adaptation of the same name.


Set in Athens, 1962, we first met Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a young and highly-educated American expat who is fluent with Greek language working as a tour guide at the Acropolis. One day, he encounters a rich American couple, Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his beautiful young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). Not long after, they get to know each other and the couple agrees to hire Rydal as their personal tour guide. Apparently Rydal has his eyes fixated with Colette and Chester knows about it. But the potential infidelity between Rydal and Colette is least of a problem when Chester is accidentally involved with a dead body in the bathroom during a heated argument at the hotel they reside. Rydal, of course, witnesses the incident and eventually gets himself involved in the process.

As a first-time director, Hossein Amini seems to be drawing obvious inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock's filmmaking style. No doubt THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY is blessed with splendid production values with kudos goes to Marcel Zyskind's magnificent lensing on the exotic locations of Athens, Crete and Istanbul while Alberto Iglesias' suspenseful score evokes the classic feel of Bernard Hermann-like moment. Amini, who also penned the screenplay, does a credible job setting up the layered tension between the three central characters (Rydal, Chester and Colette) as they become fugitives trying to escape from the law.

Speaking of three central characters, Oscar Isaac delivers a strong performance as a flawed anti-hero being forced under circumstances. Viggo Mortensen, on the other hand, reminds me of Cary Grant or James Stewart of the classic Alfred Hitchcock era -- dashing, debonair and has that classic leading-man style. After all, you can't argue the fact that Mortensen manages to pull off such a suave appearance wearing a cream suit throughout the movie. Kirsten Dunst is similarly engaging as the estranged Colette who is torn between Rydal and Chester.

The suspenseful moment when Chester tries to get rid of the unconscious American private detective Paul Vittorio (David Warshofsky) out of his hotel room.

While Amini does a worthwhile job re-creating an old-fashioned Hitchcockian thriller, there's a few nagging problems about the way he crafts the actual elements of suspense and tension. If you watch any classic Hitchcock movies before, the suspenseful moments often ratchets up ahead as his movie goes further but the same cannot be said with Amini's overall execution here. He may have been good with all the setup, but those who are expecting a good payoff might find the result rather disappointed. Case in point here is the supposedly compelling love triangle between Rydal, Chester and Colette which doesn't evokes as much tension or passion as it should be. Same goes also with the underwhelming finale involving an elaborate foot chase around the town of Istanbul.


Although THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY is hardly the kind of vintage Hitchcockian thriller that might led you to believe so, Amini's directorial debut remains a curiously intriguing character-driven thriller worth checking out for.

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