The Two Faces Of January (2014)

The Two Faces Of JanuaryChester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette MacFarland (Kirsten Dunst) are on holiday in Athens in 1962. While there they meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a fellow American who gives guided tours of the city to the most unwitting of tourists. When Colette accidentally leaves a souvenir in their taxi, Rydal returns it to the couple’s hotel, only to find Chester dragging a corpse down the hall. For a fee, Rydal agrees to help the couple escape the city, and — promising to keep the incident from Colette — arranges for fake passports to be sent to Crete. Chester isn’t convinced that he can trust Rydal, however, and as Rydal becomes increasingly friendly with his wife Chester begins to look at ways of disposing of their guide.

Let’s start with the title. I realise that it’s poor practice to judge a book by its cover, but you can usually tell a lot about a film by how terrible its title is: Star Trek Into Darkness was indeed missing something important, Quantum of Solace didn’t make much sense at all and Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium was almost too twee for words. Admittedly, the filmmakers inherited the title from Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, but in a week in which Lone Sherfig’s Posh has just become The Riot Club (though a poor substitute, in my opinion) it’s little excuse for writer-director Hossein Amini, who could hardly have done any worse. The Two Faces Of January is another terrible title — it’s rambling, awkward, nondescript — and so is the film itself.

Mortensen, Dunst and Isaac are all accomplished actors in their own right, but together they make for a strangely inert ensemble. The film lacks an obvious lead, a sense of urgency and a palpable threat. It’s like they were all in Athens anyway, and having grown tired of hiding hats at the Acopolis decided to film something while they were there. It’s a thriller that deals more in murk than mystery; there are various hidden agendas, a scattering of secrets, but nothing salacious or even remotely surprising. Are the MacFarlands innocent tourists or equally innocuous con-artists? Is Rydal an unambitious fraudster or a good man just trying to get by? It’s not exactly thrilling stuff. January may have two faces, but neither is much to look at.

Based on a 1964 novel and set in 1962, Amini’s The Two Faces Of January at least feels suitably old-fashioned. It’s the kind of film you imagine filling Channel 5’s mid-afternoon schedules, aimed at hungover students and housebound pensioners who are looking for something reasonably diverting but ultimately undemanding to snooze through. It looks pretty enough, like Mamma Mia! in better light, but has little else to offer. There’s some father-son trite to explain why Chester and Rydal are giving each other the time of day, and the occasional allusion to Greek myth to justify the setting, but essentially you’re just watching cream-coloured clothing crease as the characters move from one seat to another. They’re supposed to be on the run from the law, but with nowhere to go and almost no immediate threat they spend most of the film lying down or standing still.

So, heavy night last night? Stuck on your crossword? The Two Faces Of January might just about keep you awake until dinnertime. If, however, you’re looking for a bit of excitement on a Friday evening, I’d probably advise against it — that said, you probably didn’t register the title anyway.

2-stars (1)

 

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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