Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces Of January begins at the Parthenon in Athens, where tour guide Rydal and the MacFarlands first meet. Rydal is busy impressing the young women he shows around, while Chester MacFarland and his wife Colette are seemingly enjoying their vacation. When the couple later asks Rydal to take them to the Athens flea market, the fates of these three people intertwine, condemning them to spend time together while they’re unable to trust or rely on one another. Thus begins a story full of intrigue and suspense, a movie with a very Hitchcockian vibe, and a tone and pace that’s certainly akin to Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley adaptation from 1999.
The moment the film begins it’s apparent it harkens back to an older time. The story not only takes place in 1962, but The Two Faces Of January itself is also shot and measured in a way that certainly resembles that decades’ cinema. Director Hossein Amini really takes his time with the material, lets the scenes breathe, and expertly builds up atmosphere, assisted by a score that expertly moves from background to foreground, builds and builds, to create tension and expectations. The movie’s cinematography also adds to the mood The Two Faces Of January conveys: Greece, its capital and small villages, ruins, valleys and the sea are a big part of the appeal of the film and a character of its own that’s at times idyllic and rugged.
It’s the performances though that are the most impressive. All three characters are enigmas at the start of the film, all deceptive surface, people with a perfected poker face. But, as the film goes on, you really get to know who these characters are and what they’re hiding, mostly through the wonderful acting by Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac, all actors who are able to say a lot without the actual use of words, a necessity in a film that’s sparse on expository dialogue that tells the audience exactly what the characters are thinking, doing and feeling. The Two Faces Of January‘s script doesn’t spell anything out, respects its audience’s intelligence, which means the actors get to have a lot of fun with their lines; there’s a lot of subtext and tone to everyday conversations. The screenplay is a little less successful what its ending’s concerned unfortunately: the way everything’s wrapped up feels a bit rushed and way too clean, which doesn’t give the movie as satisfying of a conclusion as it deserves.
The Two Faces Of January is a beautifully crafted and expertly acted and directed film. It overtly wears its influences on its sleeve, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. 8/10