The Two Faces of January


Known for her twisted psychological thrillers, American novelist Patricia Highsmith has been an insatiable source for movie adaptations, some of them being highly successful, from Rene Clement’s French film Purple Noon starring Alain Delon (her ideal incarnation of Ripley) to Wim Wenders’ American Friend and Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Taking on a lesser known Patricia Highsmith novel, The Two Faces of January, writer Hossein Amini (Drive, Snow White and the Huntsman) certainly had an easy material to work with for his directorial debut and, unsurprisingly, he succeeds at creating an enjoyable – but safe – adaptation.

Using exotic locales – Athens and the Greek Islands – and supported by a strong cast from the nonchalant Viggo Mortensen (Chester – The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Everybody Has A Plan) to Oscar Isaac (Rydal – Inside Llewyn Davis) and Kirsten Dunst (Colette – Spiderman, Melancholia), The Two Faces of January deploys its dangerous charm to make you root shamelessly for a trio of sympathetic amoral characters. Advancing quickly and using Greece as a postcard-perfect backdrop, this is one of these films that take you on a suspenseful journey until the end.

The movie however fails to deliver when it comes to character development, most particularly to portray the father-son bond that seems to link Chester to Rydal. The filmmaker drops hints throughout the film without really making us experience their filial connection and when we’re getting close to the conclusion, he seems to rush to throw in a couple lines of dialogue on the subject. What he is however more convincing at exposing is Rydal’s attraction for Colette, which to be frank is understandable onscreen as the young woman has the traits of Ms. Dunst.

Most importantly what we can regret is that Mr. Amini chose to deliver such a formal adaptation as Mr. Clément and Mr. Wenders showed that you could transcend Ms. Highsmith’s best-selling novels into more artful works. While The Two Faces of January proves to be satisfying piece of entertainment, it lacks what it takes to make it a memorable piece of filmmaking such as Purple Noon.  

Director: Hossein Amini – Actors: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst – Running Time: 1:36 – Year: 2014 – Country: UK

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.