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The Two Faces of January - Film Review

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by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published May 31st 2014
A Strong Debut for Director Hossein Amini
The Two Faces of January is an American thriller, based on a novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith.

It's 1962 - a time when most people smoke cigarettes and everyone is sensibly attired in proper dresses or suits (and, as appropriate, hats). The film opens in Athens, where we see a rather glamorous American couple, Chester and Colette, happily newlywed, laughing and joking as they look around the delights of the Parthenon.

Chester and Colette
Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst), resplendent at the Acropolis

They quickly attract the attention of a young Greek speaking American tour guide, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), whom, it turns out, has a side business of scamming tourists who lack the knowledge of the local currency and its conversion rate to US dollars, 'helping' them with their purchases and transactions. Rydal is drawn both to the alluring Colette (Kirsten Dunst), and to her somewhat older husband Chester (Viggo Mortensen), as he reminds Rydal of his recently deceased father.

Chester and Colette quickly befriend Rydal and invite him to dinner, an invitation he willingly accepts. After dropping off the couple at their exclusive hotel following dinner, Rydal realises Colette has left her bracelet in the cab and he returns to the hotel to give it back to her. He catches a lift to the floor where their room is located - to be confronted with the sight of Chester dragging a seemingly unconscious man into another room on the floor. Chester asks Rydal to help, which he does, after a brief hesitation. And with that gesture, Rydal unwittingly becomes a conspirator in an increasingly murky story of lies and deception. Rydal soon learns that Chester is a bigger conman than he (Rydal) could ever dream of being.

Fleeing the scene, we are transported to increasingly more remote locations in Crete as the three try to avoid the police.

Oscar Isaac
Rydal (Oscar Isaac)

As the story develops, Rydal's infatuation with Colette grows, a fact which infuriates Chester, and sees him become increasingly jealous and angry. It becomes apparent that things can't continue as they are - and they soon take a sharp and dangerous twist.

We are treated to a thrilling finale in the dark, winding back alleys of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.

I greatly enjoyed this film. The acting was superb, the story sharp and well-paced. It held my interest throughout, and the direction was excellent. (The film is directed by Hossein Amini in his directorial debut; he has a promising future if this film is anything to go by.)

In part, The Two Faces of January is a travelogue, as the movie takes us to remote parts of Crete, across rocky roads and paths, to small towns and little cafes. And then it heads to the wonderful Istanbul, complete with a birdseye view of the Galata Bridge, and the scenes in and around the Grand Bazaar. I couldn't help but enjoy these scenes, even as the story became blacker.

Another aspect I particularly noticed was the way light was used in this movie. We start with bright sunshine when everything is initially carefree in Athens. As the movie progresses and the plot (as they say) thickens, we move to drab Crete, and finally to the dark and gloomy back streets of Istanbul. The final scene is played out in dingy light with drizzling rain. I loved this bit of direction.

I definitely recommend this one: I would give it a strong 8 out of 10. It's also been billed as one of the top 200 most anticipated films of 2014.

The Two Faces of January is on general release in Australia from 19th June 2014.

Playing time: 97 minutes.

Watch the official trailer here:

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*Fiona Anderson was invited as a guest
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Why? For a compelling story with great acting, set in wonderful locations.
When: From 19th June 2014
Where: Opening in Australian cinemas on 19th June 2014.
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