Movie Review - The Two Faces of January

This is an adaptation of a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Several of Highsmith's books have been adapted into films like Strangers on a Train (1951) by Alfred Hitchcock and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) by Anthony Mighella. The story here focuses on an American couple in 1962 Greece who are on the run. A third American becomes involved either to help or divide them. It has a lot of twists and turns, a lot of shocks and surprises that keep this movie entertaining. Yet, this suspense film is the directorial debut of Hossein Amini who was the screenwriter for Drive and The Wings of the Dove. Not knowing if this film is faithful to the novel or not, it's difficult to say whether the blame should be laid with Amini or Highsmith.

Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence and The Lord of the Rings) stars as Chester MacFarland, a man with whom you get the impression is the Bernie Madoff of the 1960's, the Jordan Belfort of that time perhaps, or some kind of white collar criminal who has gotten away with tons of other people's money.

Kirsten Dunst (Interview with the Vampire and Spider-Man) plays Chester's wife Collete who is noticeably younger but who fundamentally loves him and not necessarily for the lavish lifestyle he provides.

Oscar Issac (Drive and Inside Llewyn Davis) co-stars as Rydel, a scam artist who speaks foreign languages and acts as a translator, taking advantage of Americans who don't speak Greek.

It seems as if the movie could go in one direction, which is a direction I appreciated, but like Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, the momentum kicks into high gear once a murder occurs and the narrative for the rest of it is just the characters trying to evade capture. However, unlike those other two Highsmith stories, this one, at least as portrayed on screen, doesn't provide us as much about the protagonists, particularly Chester who is the lead character, as the protagonists in the other two.

I felt like I had a better knowledge of Guy Haines, played by Farley Granger in Strangers on a Train, and Tom Ripley, played by Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. I also feel like Granger and Damon had more to do than Mortensen has to do here. It might be because this movie takes place in a shorter span of time, only a few days. This movie feels too short, almost as if it's missing a first act that better establishes the three characters here.

What's missing here also is the homosexual element. The aforementioned Highsmith stories all had some homosexual element, often times implied and other times more direct. Arguably, Guy Haines' counterpart was a closeted homosexual and outright, Tom Ripley was gay in practice. It might be offensive to suggest that homosexuality was integral or a contributing factor to the criminal elements, but the repression of which seemed to be a staple.

The fact that it's not here is a bit of a letdown, but it's replaced with an interesting father-and-son dynamic that was well-played in moments. Mortensen and Isaac have good chemistry as it were. Amini does a great job of playing up the suspense and building paranoia, particularly with the use of visuals, well-constructed wide-shots as well as chilling close-ups of newspapers.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, language and smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.


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