Tuesday, October 14, 2014

[Review] The Two Faces of January

Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac are the tricky triangle in this well-wrought suspense thriller. The Two Faces of January contains the traits of a Hitchcockian concoction, from the visuals, the music, the twist-filled script, and the tangled mess of everyone involved. 

It's the year 1962. Chester (Mortensen) and Collette (Dunst) are a couple of tourists perusing the attractions in Greece. They make acquaintance with Rydal (Isaac), an American tour guide. For the sake of mystery, we can't gather much about these characters at all early on. Chester and Collette's night at the hotel is interrupted by a shady man who confronts Chester about some business deals. Turns out, Chester owes multiple people a lot of money. The meeting goes awry and Chester ends up killing the guy. Rydal agrees to help Chester clear up his debacle and achieve passports to get home. The question arises: Why in the world would Rydal agree help this guy? But of course, Rydal has his own untrustworthy motives up his sleeve.

The story unfolds with clever misdirects, heady dilemmas, and finely crafted twists at every corner. Nothing is quite what it seems, and the characters clash amidst the heat. This isn't an action-based thriller, but the sheer intrigue, high stakes, and the "holy crap!" one-thing-after-another progression of the narrative (to the point where it almost gets humorous) makes this thing move at freight-train pace.

Directed by Hossein Amini (Screenwriter of 2011's Drive), the film is greatly lifted by its lush visuals and technical work. The voyeur camera style slowly guides across the nicely set frames, intently focusing on specific details, objects, and facial expressions. The old-school, string-driven score escalates everything as the To Catch A Thief and Strangers on a Train vibes ride in.

Even though the conclusion doesn't satisfy as much as everything that leads up to it, and the film heavily relies on the appeal of movies of the past, The Two Faces of January renders itself as a 2014 thriller of high order. In fact, the zeitgeist it captures is exactly what makes it so impressive, and it proves that even more than half a century later, we can still enjoy some of these old tricks.


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