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The Two Faces of January - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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The Two Faces of January
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Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-



There's something very curious about The Two Faces of January, the only thing that really sets it apart from other films running in theatres right now. It has a distinctive tone to it, set in 1960s Greece, a subtle sort of mystery that feels incredibly like a vintage Alfred Hitchcock film -- at least before any Hitchcockian characters reveal themselves to be iconically psychotic. This tone is evoked mostly through original music by Alberto Iglesias -- who, incidentally, scored a bunch of Pedro Almodóvar films -- but also in sound design.

The similarity in tone to, say, the beginning "mystery" segment of Psycho, is uncanny. It's like a colorized version of a sixties thriller, right down to the pacing of the editing. The difference is that, although The Two Faces of January features at least one murderous character, there is no real payoff to this apparent homage in the end. Alfred Hitchcock, in any case, made the kinds of masterpieces that this film could never hope to be. This movie, by contrast, has an ending that can best be described as "blah."

Until that point, at least, it's intriguing: Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) is an amateur con man offering guided tours of Greece to unsuspecting tourists, one of whom, Chester (Viggo Mortensen), reminds him of his late father. He winds up offering his services to Chester and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst), and through a series of coincidences and unfortunate circumstances, winds up enmeshed in their running from the law. Chester has been confronted with a private investigator who works for people he swindled in the States, and Chester accidentally kills him in a struggle in his hotel room.

Rydal (Isaac), on his way to return a bracelet Colette left in a cab, accidentally witnesses Chester dragging the PI's body through the hotel hallway. For some reason, he winds up offering more services, helping Chester and Colette procure fake IDs and escorting them to more remote areas of the country where the passports can be delivered without scrutiny. Rydal slowly realizes Chester and his wife are wanted in connection with a death in that hotel, but with every move, Rydal and Chester end up tied more tightly together in criminal activity than they would prefer. It's all about how much either of them can get away with, and to what extent they can trust each other -- which is not much, in either case.

Kirsten Dunst is a charismatic presence onscreen, as always, but winds up short changed in terms of screen time. The script, co-written by director Hossein Amini (who wrote Drive), doesn't even do her character justice. In the end, it's a showdown between Rydal and Chester. And it turns out not to be much of a showdown, letting off both characters far too easily.

The Two Faces of January isn't the worst thing ever to hit movie theatres, although it does have one of the more baffling movie titles. It's engaging, and has a uniquely and oddly comforting retro feel. But, in the end, it squanders its potential.

Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst wander aimlessly in THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY.


Overall: B-
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