On the cover of the DVD for ‘The Two Faces of January’, it boldly declares that this film is from ‘The Producer of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and the writer of Drive’. By that description, you’d expect this film to be outstanding.
This raises the question; why doesn’t anybody know about this movie?
The reason for that is because despite having a producer, writer and source that have all, in the past, created something memorable, exciting and iconic, together they produced something forgettable. I’m not saying at all that it is a bad movie, because it’s actually pretty good, but it’s extremely forgettable. There is nothing about this film that stays with you. It’s all rather nice and yet…nice all too often gets lost in the shuffle.
‘The Two Faces of January’ tells the story of Chester MacFarland (if that is your real name) and his wife Colette who are in Athens, pretending to be on vacation while in actuality they are hiding out from angry investors who are after Chester for stealing their money. While in Athens, the couple runs into a young con-man, Rydal, who takes a liking to Colette and finds a way to squeeze himself into their lives. Once he witnesses what he assumes is something rather innocent, Rydal becomes a major part of the MacFarland’s lives, and then things get dangerous.
I just wish they felt more dangerous.
You know that feeling you get when a film is going somewhere and yet you never really feel that urgency to follow it because it’s not really ‘going anywhere’? That’s the feeling that ‘The Two Faces of January’ gives me. It’s never wholly compelling, so despite some nice performances (Dunst is surprisingly dull here, but both Isaac and Mortensen are giving it their all) and some beautiful scenery, the film feels overly long and drool despite only being 90 minutes long. It also fumbles some character development in the later half, pitting the two men against one another in a way that seems to set them up for some rich character analysis and then throwing it all out the window for a ridiculous finale (like, Chester would NOT have done that) that almost adds a campiness to the film, which was striving so hard to be taken seriously.
I wonder how this story (which is interesting but nowhere near as compelling as Highsmith’s other stories) would have fared better in the hands of a director who understood how to build the tension it needed, but unfortunately first time director Hossein Amini isn’t up to that task. It all feels very generic, one note and somewhat cheap; like a TV movie. He has a range of writing credits to his name, most of which are actually impressive (he wrote ‘Wings of the Dove’, ‘Drive’ and ‘Jude’), but ‘The Two Faces of January’ marks his first time in the director’s chair.
Maybe he should have stuck to penning the screenplay, and then passed the directing duties to someone with vision.