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Viggo Mortensen
Kirsten Dunst
Oscar Isaac.
Hossein Amini.
Hossein Amini.
Running Time
96 minutes

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The Two Faces Of January
The Talented Mr. Amini

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Footloose in Greece, tour guide-hustler Rydal (Isaac) is drawn to wealthy American couple Chester (Mortensen) and Colette MacFarland (Dunst). Sudden violence reveals they are not what they seem to be either, but the trio are caught together in a web on an increasingly tense journey from Athens to Crete to Istanbul.

The Two Faces Of January

A neglected Patricia Highsmith novel he loved — her ninth, published in 1964 — inspired screenwriter Hossein Amini (The Wings Of The Dove, Drive) to turn director. He certainly knew what he was doing. Anyone who loves Hitchcock’s adaptation of Strangers On A Train, Clément’s Plein Soleil, Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (or any of around two dozen Highsmith adaptations, for that matter) will relish an atmospheric thriller of deception that is character-driven but doesn’t stint on suspense, shock twists and the ever-popular increasingly desperate pursuit.

Befitting an ironic psychological mystery, the title is a play on the themes of duplicity and shifting circumstances, January being derived from the ancient god Janus, a symbol of beginnings and transitions, whose two faces look to the past and future. The principal characters have two sides to them and our perceptions of each alter considerably. It’s 1962, and a resourceful American adrift in self-imposed exile, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), has his dark secrets and emotional baggage but is enjoying himself latching onto tourists (college girls his speciality). Well-educated and fluent in Greek, Rydal is a knowledgeable guide but also uses his abundant charm and fluency to skim off the deals he negotiates for his charges. Sunlit on the Acropolis, elegant new arrivals, the stylish MacFarlands (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) look like movie stars, Chester the older, New York financier type and the younger Colette flirty, sexy and chic. Apart from their money they represent sophistication and excitement to Rydal, whose unhappy history with his father seems to make Chester, the glamorous father figure/role model, even more attractive to him than pretty, convivial Colette.

Inadvertently Rydal catches Chester out in a huge, revelatory, uh-oh moment, offers to help, and their fates are inexorably entwined. The MacFarlands are just one step ahead of the law and too late, when the three have fled to Crete to await new passports Rydal has brokered with one of his sketchy contacts, Rydal learns the extent of their anxiety and culpability. Nerves are fraying when the vulnerable Colette’s growing dependence on Rydal and her mounting disillusionment with her husband bring out Chester’s ugly side. Drinking heavily, jealous, mean, he’s increasingly volatile and untrustworthy. While it is Rydal who strikes us initially as the more sly and manipulative of the two men, it’s his growing unease with which we identify, though the motives and intent of both conmen remain suspicious in their cat-and-mouse game. Fresh off his breakout performance in Inside Llewyn Davis Isaac continues to impress with his presence and ability to be likably flawed. Mortensen is superb as a fraud whose facade crumbles but who retains his craftiness even in despair.Amini lays the psychological groundwork beautifully (with more attention to Colette’s character than Highsmith gave her, his screenplay and Dunst’s intelligent performance elevating her from love-triangle cypher into a more complicated, sympathetic captive of mischance), and tightens the grip incrementally. Thus the second half really resonates when misadventure and poor judgment escalate, the pace accelerates and the scenery darkens, and by the time we reach a life-or-death climax in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, it’s nail-biting, bullet-sweating time.

A superior directorial debut for a smart, literate screenwriter delivers both first-class character drama and edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Reviewed by Angie Errigo

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Average user rating for The Two Faces Of January
Empire Star Rating

Drab if pretty.

This might have looked nice and been well cast but it was largely dull. Hitchcockian in tone but without any of the talent. Viggo was good but Kirsten Dunst was miscast as the femme fatale. The story was slow, never drew me in and not one of the characters is worth caring about. Amazed Empire gave this old-fashioned film 4 stars! But then they gave Avengers 5 and film of the year! Jesus. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Nude at 20:04, 15 September 2014 | Report This Post

Acting is strong but lacked suspense up to a pivotal point in the film!

Check out my full review on! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TroyPutland at 09:57, 08 August 2014 | Report This Post

An oddly lethargic thriller.

I get the feeling that there's a more compelling film to be made from Highsmith's novel, and even though I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it any more, I could have at least taken comfort in the knowledge that the rest of the audience would. The crowd in Screen 2 tonight didn't seem to get much more from Viggo's grumpy antics than I did. The Two Faces Of January is a great brochure for rural Greece. I just didn't really care either way for anything which happened there. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 19:31, 22 May 2014 | Report This Post

RE: Loved it.

Went to see this last night and thought it was great. Twists and turns and great acting ... More

Posted by CharlE at 12:38, 21 May 2014 | Report This Post

Loved it.

This is pretty much spot-on. Looks gorgeous, sounds wonderful. Is under two-hours (for once). Acting is great all-round - Viggo makes a great drunk. More please. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 23:04, 18 May 2014 | Report This Post

Loved it.

This is pretty much spot-on. Looks gorgeous, sounds wonderful. Is under two-hours (for once). Acting is great all-round - Viggo makes a great drunk. More please. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 23:03, 18 May 2014 | Report This Post

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