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New Release Review - The Two Faces of January

A low level conman aids an American couple on the run in 1960's Greece.

Directed by: Hossein Amini
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan




American couple Chester (Mortensen) and Collette (Dunst) MacFarland have fled to Greece in an attempt to avoid the angry victims of Chester's dodgy brokerage scams. When a debt collector tracks them down, Chester accidentally kills the man. Enlisting the aid of a young American student, Rydal (Isaacs), who has been supporting himself by ripping off tourists, Chester and Collette attempt to flee the country.
The works of the novelist Patricia Highsmith have resulted in several cinematic adaptations, most notable among them Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Rneé Clément's Plein Soleil and Wim Wenders' The American Friend. Hossein Amini's directorial debut is the latest in a mini Highsmith revival that kicked off 15 years ago with Anthony Minghella's adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley, the novel on which Clement's earlier film had also been based, and its central character dynamic is almost a retread, with the homoerotic undertones replaced by a more audience friendly surrogate father son relationship between the two leads.
This dynamic is rather crudely sketched, as is the relationship between Rydal and Collette, as poorly drawn a female lead as you'll find. Rydal seems no more interested in making love to Collette than he is in adopting Chester as a father figure, but the plot hinges on our belief in both. Amini struggles to communicate his character's motivations to us, and as a result we begin to distance ourselves further from the story the longer it progresses.
On the surface, the film seems desperate to fit the Hitchcock mold. Dunst resembles a classic Hitchcock blond and her outfits look like Edith Head seconds. Marcel Zyskind's sun drenched cinematography is reminiscent of Robert Burks' work on The Man Who Knew Too Much, while Alberto Iglesias' score is of the sub Bernard Herrmann variety. The script and direction, however, at best can be compared to the ailing Hitch of Torn Curtain and Topaz. Amini makes the grave error of allowing his characters more information than he allows his audience in on, a mistake the master of suspense would never make. This means we spend the movie playing catch up with the plot, rather than being invested in it, and the necessary element of suspense is sorely absent.
The Two Faces of January is a film that can't seem to decide on the story it wants us to follow, or which of its characters we should be rooting for. The film's second act ends on a shocking twist, from which it never recovers, leaving us with two faces whose fates we no longer care about.
5/10


Eric Hillis

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