THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY 
Directed By Hossein Amini, Written by Hossein Amini (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)
The plot and the acting/characters save this movie, as it could have been incredibly bland. To be fair though, it is very much a throwback to classic films of the 60’s and earlier, both in the way it is shot, the way the action is handled, and also the subtle strings of the soundtrack. Additionally it is an adaptation, of a novel that I unfortunately have not read, and perhaps because of this, the action in this movie is very much in the sequence of events and the characters’ evolving (or devolving) relationships, rather than any actual on screen action. This isn’t a movie of its time, its lukewarm reception is most probably because of this classical feel. Personally, I enjoyed it, as we travel to Greece, circa 1962, with Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst).
They are a rich couple on vacation, and soon into the film an American-born multilingual scam-artist, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), watches them dining and takes interest as he notices the huge hotel they are staying in. He proceeds to fleece them every step of the way posing as a tour guide, while keeping one eye on Collete, who it is remarked at one point looks like she could be half her husband’s age. They dine with Rydal and his girlfriend, who is barely seen again, as Rydal’s interest has turned towards Collete and her husband’s money.
Chester is rich for a reason, and a private investigator tracks him down at his hotel in Greece after the two couples say their farewells. What begins as a scuffle turns into a murder. Meanwhile, on his taxi-ride away from the hotel, Rydal sees a bracelet Chester bought his wife in the taxi they shared, and immediately heads back to the hotel, despite the fact that he cheated Chester into buying the bracelet for an inflated price in the first place. This decision of course brings Rydal into Chester’s corrupt and crooked world, one which his wife seems somewhat oblivious of. This murder and subsequent re-meeting of Chester and Rydal sets the story into motion, as Rydal offers to help and becomes further entrenched in Chester’s murky, corrupt world, as the story winds and becomes an entertaining mystery/thriller.
The acting and the characters they played were all brilliant, except perhaps Kirsten Dunst – though I am not sure if it was intentional; her character was that of a trophy wife, but the quantity of her lines were as well. She was essentially a spectator of the other two for the most part. Oscar Isaac was great; I never knew if Rydal was lying or not, his emotions and true intentions were a mystery. Viggo was excellent, no surprises there; Chester didn’t seem corrupt at all until the beans were spilled, and once they were his character went through several waves of various emotions, with Viggo striking the perfect chord for each one. The chemistry between the three characters was very engaging from the moment they met, and this develops further as the tale unravels itself. I’m sure it helped that they had an excellent source in the novel to work from, but the adaptation itself was very solid and the scripting for the most part was fantastic.
From a visual standpoint though, this movie is slightly dull. The only thing I can say about it is the set design of 1960’s Greece was spot on, and combined with the classic feel of the movie, made for a convincing travel back in time. The soundtrack was again very classical in nature, slowly building as the movie progressed with bursts of sound from the string section when the action got hairy.
This movie isn’t amazing and won’t change your life, but it was refreshing to see and hear a movie that reminded me of movies from a dead era of cinema. The plot was thick with twists that were a natural progression of the story and didn’t feel forced, while continually defying my expectations. The second half is surprisingly tense as a result of this. Also, who would turn down the opportunity to see Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac playing off each other, eh??