Reviewed by Drew Ninnis
Director: Hossein Amini
Screenplay: Hossein Amini, novel by Patricia Highsmith
Runtime: 96 minutes
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan.
Trailer: “Wouldn't trust him to mow my lawn.” (Warning: plenty o' spoilers)
Plot: Wealthy, mysterious couple Colette and Chester MacFarland encounter American student Rydal Keener slumming it as a tour guide in 1962 Athens. Charmed by Rydal’s easy manner and street smarts, they strike up a friendship. But all is not as it seems, and soon the three are shackled together by a sloppy cover-up and pursued by the law.
Review: Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January is a slick, entertaining thriller that is perfect for passing the time on a quiet afternoon. Based on the popular Patricia Highsmith novel, the film has limited ambitions beyond pleasurably holding your attention for 96 minutes, and then letting you go about your business. This is admirable enough, and it delivers all of the elements you would expect from a modest entertainer: warmly shot, iconic locales, touches of cultural colour, and modest amounts of suspense. It could almost be called relaxing – setting aside the murder, extortion, and other felonies committed throughout the length of the film. The characterisations are competent enough to allow some sympathy for all sides; and you’ll relish the early shots of the Parthenon, coupled with the beauty of Athens at night.
Oscar Isaac competently portrays Rydal Keener, a young American student from a well-heeled background who makes a temporary living as a tour guide in Athens through his talent for languages and knowledge of Classical Antiquity. As his onion is predictably peeled away we discover that these talents stem from a hard childhood with an academic father; Rydal’s presence in Greece is partly explained by a reluctance to return home and confront those sublimated issues. The other part is explained by the attractive young tourists he wines and dines, enjoying the company of a new partner every week on a holiday that, for him, need only end when his money runs out.
Enter the distinguished Viggo Mortensen as Chester MacFarland, and his beautiful wife Collete played by Kirsten Dunst. Both put in solid performances with the straightforward material they are presented with; convincingly portraying the unlikely love that might form between a wealthy older man and his significantly younger wife. Collete is, to a certain extent, the innocent of the piece but she is under no illusions as to the nature of her husband. Charmed by Rydal, and glad to be in the company of a fellow American, they hire him to show them around Athens and look after their interests – a task Rydal performs happily, although not without skimming a little cash for himself in the meantime.
Inevitably, Rydal falls for the blushing Collete – an affection that is complicated by the circumstances of the couple’s arrival. From here things get complicated; and the film gives modest enjoyment unravelling the threads of the narrative, letting them tangle until the time comes for an inevitable confrontation.
The Two Faces of January is undoubtedly capitalising on the current fetish for the 1960s period, and a vicarious delight in the luxuries of a certain class during that time. One can’t blame Amini for starting easy in his directorial debut and banking the goodwill for a more ambitious film; and for the audience, it is a pleasant diversion.
If your friends, families, or significant others frequently argue over whether to see the latest lobotomised rom-com or a deafening super-hero film, then The Two Faces of January strikes a respectable and happy medium. After all, both David and Margaret liked it. Perhaps they’re getting old.
Rating: Three stars.