A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Anticipation was at an exceptional level for this one. From the director of “Drive”, producer of “Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy” and starring Aragorn, Llewyn Davis and Marie Antoinette, “The Two Faces of January” looked incredibly promising.
Set in the luscious and photogenic islands of Greece, “The Two Faces of January”tells the story of the MacFarland’s, a well-to-do couple holidaying around Europe in spectacular fashion.
Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) is a wealthy but fraudulent man who “owes some people some money”, while his faithful but slightly hollow wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) is a definitive gold digger who reeks the benefits of her husband’s fortune for a living.
Whilst visiting the Acropolis, the glamorous pair run into Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a Greek-speaking American tour guide offering to escort them around for an afternoon, showing them the sights.
From the outset, duplicity is a predominant theme within not just the story, but every dominant character.
Following a visit from a private detective regarding unhappy clientele, Chester’s actions are forced to turn violent, too violent as it seems…
Through pure chance, a connection is established between Rydal and the MacFarland’s, and unluckily, he finds himself caught right in the middle of Chester’s mess. From there, tension, mystery, escalation and intrigue ensue.
“The Two Faces of January”seems to have a ‘classic’ sheen about it in terms of structure, camerawork and overall feel.
Being set in the 1960’s, the cinematic techniques work exceptionally well to encapsulate the era and attitudes of the time, but having said that, it can also feel slightly contemporary, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The characters and the atmosphere have an underlying sense of mystery and uncertainty, particularly through the excessive use of sunglasses and the aforementioned theme of duplicity.
With enough on-screen smoking to give the audience lung cancer, the film is certainly a visually enticing mystery; there is something about the action of lighting a cigarette that emphasises so much about a character and/or situation, particularly in a mystery/thriller.
Oscar Isaac is marvellous as the cunning and indecipherable Rydal, whilst Viggo Mortensen gives yet another standout performance as the panicked, extreme and frustrated Chester.
The pair work so well off one another; the tension they create as the narrative progresses is brilliant to watch. The underwhelming factor of the film sadly comes from Kirsten Dunst’s character of Colette, but it doesn’t appear to completely be her fault.
Her character is pushed aside and rather annoying at times, appearing to be more of a liability to the gentlemen, but that’s precisely what a trophy wife is in such a situation.
So saying that Dunst’s character is a weak link, may in fact serve as a compliment to the film, as it was more than likely an intentional move.
For a mystery, “The Two Faces of January”works very well, for many reasons too. The performances, the dialogue, the chain of events and the sudden, unexpected twists en route are startling and make for some fantastic viewing. The overall construction of this ‘classic’ mystery film is smart and shows exactly how much work and thought has gone into this cinematic transition of a novel.
The title itself is an intriguing but ultimately brilliant touch. Ambiguous at first, “The Two Faces of January”can be left open to interpretation, but when dissecting it, the Roman God Janus – with his two faces, the themes of duplicity and the setting (Greece is close enough) all begin to connect that much more.
Overall, “The Two Faces of January”managed to prove it’s unfair iMDB rating of 6.6/10 wrong and exhibit some brilliant groundworks and techniques that ultimately form a brilliantly thrilling mystery.
With a great leading cast, superb themes and and the perfect amount of tension to keep the audience guessing, thinking and yearning for more, “The Two Faces of January”was one of 2014’s surprise packages.