I know that I’m late to the party for some of you, but sometimes I wonder about the stuff I get to review. For example: The Two Faces of January. Based on another of Patricia Highsmith’s works, the film doesn’t quite fall into the types of films we review. Sure, we have Viggo Mortensen, who is no stranger to genre films and horror. And Kirsten Dunst was in The Crow: Salvation before she hit it big with Spider-Man. As for Oscar Isaac? Well okay, Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t horror, no matter how acclaimed it is. But enough of the rigamarole, what’s exactly are we getting with The Two Faces of January?
It’s 1962. Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is an American expatriate working as a tour guide in Greece. He’s also a con-man, taking advantage of tourists being unable to distinguish foreign bills apart and pocketing the money. After skipping the opportunity to go home to attend the funeral of his father, he spots one Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). The couple are on vacation in Greece, but that doesn’t stop Rydal from trying to schmooze. Rydal is unaware that Chester is a con-man himself, and knows what Rydal is up to. Things take a twist when an American PI shows up looking to collect the cash Chester squeezed out of his clients. Unfortunately, the PI ends up dead, and now Chester and Colette are on the run, turning to Rydal for help in escaping the country.
The Two Faces Of January marks Hossein Amini’s directorial debut. Prior to this, he wrote the screenplay for Drive, and takes a few tidbits from that experience, incorporating them with this film. Amini, who also wrote the screenplay for this film, brings the film back to the days of a lesser complex story. It’s not one of those overly-detailed thrillers that we get today. Rather, Amini goes with a minimal approach, relying on dialogue with straightforward storytelling and plot. That’s certainly not a negative, as the film moves along at a fairly quick pace once things are settled. It also avoids getting bogged down with overtly detailed plotlines and a multitude of characters struggling for development.
In spite of that minimalist approach, the camerawork by cinematographer Marcel Zyskind is gorgeous. Greece looks stunning. Not only with the locales, but the vintage fashions and décor. It really looks and feels like something out of the 60s. Even more, as the film progresses, the sun-drenched locales slowly take on a more threatening feeling. Of course, this all heightens the already-growing tension that exists not only between our main protagonists, but also the tension from the law closing in on the trio. Coupling that with excellent performances by all three main actors, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the Hitchcock-like suspense.
If the film falters, it would be for certain aspects of the character study that are left unexplored. While Amini’s screenplay does go into the morally-ambiguous aspects of the trio, it doesn’t quite go into the reasons for their actions beyond greed. There’s a father-son dynamic between Chester and Rydal that doesn’t get enough attention, especially with the aspect of Rydal no longer having a father figure in his life. Then there’s Dunst, who despite turning in an equally as good a performance as her co-stars, still isn’t given as much attention in terms of her character. Colette is seemingly along for the ride, and only when she turns her attentions towards Rydal as a substitute for her husband’s increasing untrustworthiness do we get that character exploration. Of course, the relationship itself isn’t explored enough, either.
Still, there’s certainly a lot to like about The Two Faces Of January. The presentation is solid, with some great attention to detail in the locations and costumes. The film is a break from the at-times overtly complex storylines, and does provide some good character study, flawed as it might be. It’s not quite the darker thriller that readers to this site would normally look for, but it still provides some good entertainment value.
The 1080p AVC-encoded 2.39:1 widescreen transfer looks excellent. Colours are strong with great details. In fact, the details are consistent throughout the film, whether it’s a sun-drenched day scene or a darker scene at night. Black levels are deep and inky. Overall, a great-looking transfer.
The accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is also quite good. Wonderfully balanced between dialogue and sountrack, there’s also good attention paid towards the ambient effects that add some great depth and immersion. The score comes through nicely, as well.
Extras are pretty pithy for this one. First up are six minutes of Deleted Scenes, which provide a bit more development for Mortensen’s and Dunst’s characters. It looks as though they were trimmed for pacing purposes.
Following that are four minutes of bloopers, which admittedly is kind of odd to have for a film like this, but whatever. It’s the usual actors corpsing during serious moments thing.
Next up are three featurettes, each running under four minutes. “Traveling in Style” focuses on Steven Noble’s costume design work, who was aiming for a 60’s style. “Shooting the Odyssey” has director Hossein Amini and the cast talking about filming in Greece. Finally, “A Twist on the Classic Thriller” has Amini and the cast talking about the characters and plot.
We also get an AXS TV fluff piece entitled “A Look at The Two Faces of January”, which has been frankensteined using interviews from the previous featurette, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Speaking of which, the last extra is the film’s Theatrical Trailer.