Two Faces of January, The (2014)

Review #1,076

Director:  Hossein Amini
Cast:  Kirsten DunstViggo MortensenOscar Isaac
Plot:  A thriller centered on a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who flee Athens after one of them is caught up in the death of a private detective.

Genre:  Thriller / Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  96min
Rating:  PG13 for some violence, language and smoking.

I'm sorry I disappointed you.

Writer Hossein Amini's directorial debut is an interesting one, at once in tune with the genre it tries to serve, yet also succumbing to style and form without quite finding the heft befitting the characters it attempts to study.  This is no intense character study, in the vein of Drive (2011), also written by Amini, but a more laid-back suspense-drama about assuming fake identities. 

It stars Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as Chester and Colette, a husband-and-wife pair sightseeing in the exotic locale of Greece.  They inadvertently meet an American tour guide called Rydal, who is attracted to the couple, and helps them around.  Rydal is our eyes, the person who we will follow and possibly sympathize with.  As played by Oscar Issac (Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013), he adopts an intriguing position in the film he is a supporting character playing a lead role.

As Chesters past catches up with him in a form of a private detective, who appears out of the blue to harass him for money he owes (or stole from) some clients, things take a turn for the worse.  Aminis film then becomes a journey that will bring the trio to places they havent been before, both literally and psychologically. 

Functioning as a Hitchcockian thriller in both moulds, The Two Faces of January is a cross between North By Northwest (1959) and The 39 Steps (1935), filled with picturesque views of Crete, Greece, and in its climax, a foot chase across Istanbul, Turkey.  Panic and fear become part of what they must overcome to escape the authorities, particularly affecting Dunsts struggling character.  The performances are just nice and not overly dramatic. 

The Two Faces of January is slow-moving; while it doesnt lose you in ways that a poorly-directed piece would, it never quite grips you enough to insist that you should be involved in the emotions of the characters.  The plot also doesnt quite hold up well when the film makes it over the finish line, but for what it is worth, it goes through the generic paces rather okay. 

Gorgeous to look at and directed with elegance, Aminis work here would have been better appreciated if it was an older film from another time.  The strange irony is that this is a period film set in the early 1960s, so perhaps its deliberate classical style, if you may, doesnt quite have the final word in the face of Aminis modern screenwriting sensibilities.

Verdict:  A slow-moving, low-key thriller that goes through the paces rather okay, but never quite finds the heft befitting the characters it tries to study.

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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