The Two Faces of January

This screen adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel directed by Hossein Amini contains her usual stylistic devices: exotic locations, luxuriously understated attire and glamorous characters oozing sophistication masking a ruthless ambition whilst dark and dirty dealings lead them into a cesspit of deception. It is an extremely watch-able film from the very off as impressive Greek architecture co-ordinates beautifully with the understated but exquisite clothes of its three main characters who subsequently become inextricably entangled in a series of events which drag each of them further and further to the depths of their souls whilst their polite middle class facades, although slightly ruffled and scuffed, remain intact.
Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette MacFarland (Kirsten Dunst)-if these are indeed even their real names- seem, on the surface, to be a wealthy and sophisticated American couple. On their version of a ‘Grand Tour’ they stop off in Athens where they meet up with a young tour guide Rydal-the impossibly handsome Oscar Isaac- who makes a living as a tour guide whilst creaming off extra profit by ripping off his charges. It turns out that he is the multi-lingual son of a leading American archaeologist who tried to instil his children with a privileged and unique education which should set them up for life. Rydal’s reaction to all of this was to run away from the future his father had mapped out for him and, in essence, attempt to escape the very world the MacFarlands are trying to represent whilst simultaneously attempting to gain entry into.
Immediately there is an attraction between Rydal and Colette but there is also something of a bond between him and Chester. It is never made explicit whether this is a father-son or homo-erotic attraction but although Colette is the focus of both men’s attentions there is also the hint that she is also merely in the way.
It transpires early on that the MacFarlands are not exactly who they say they are, in any regard, resulting in their dubious past catching up with them with a confrontation which leads to murder and the subsequent cover up three find themselves embroiled in a downward spiral which sends each of them plummeting to new depths of their being. No-one in this sordid tale is wholly innocent but the feeling that if a little more honesty was applied then the situation, whilst still bad, would not degenerate quite as far as it eventually does with further fatalities, deception and corruption wrecking each of their lives.
Despite the fantastic surroundings-after Athens both Crete and Turkey play supporting roles in what is essentially a three handed outing- it is also an extremely claustrophobic film as it is the small and ever increasing insularity, due to circumstance, of the central triumvirate’s world which we mostly inhabit. The performances are excellent with Viggo Mortensen playing a charming but charmless rogue, Dunst as the seemingly innocent but obviously knowing wife and Isaac as the good looking, deceptive but essentially honest rich boy determined to make his mark on the world on his own terms. It is a film layered with sexual tension between the three of them and although I felt the ending lent itself to Hollywood tradition it is still an extremely slick, seductive and worthwhile film I would not mind seeing again. That is recommendation in itself.

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