Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Two Faces of January

In the 1960's, an older man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife (Kirsten Dunst) touring Greece make friends with a young tour guide (Oscar Isaac) who's also a small-time con man. And when trouble occurs, they all go on the run together. And as the trouble gets deeper and the tensions get higher, trust goes completely out the window.

The biggest problem with this movie is that Oscar's hair was straightened for a strange and unknown reason.

What we are left with is a low-key suspense thriller building slowly around these three characters, to a not shocking, high or vibrant peak, but to a peak nonetheless. The story is based on a novel, written in 1964 by Patricia Highsmith (author of Strangers on a Train, and The Talented Mr. Ripley), and I'd be very interested to know if it's considered an accurate adaptation. Particularly if it's faithful to the tone, because it's very different tonally. As a film, it's not as exciting as you'd expect a thriller to be, not mysterious enough to be just a mystery; too light for a hard character piece and too straightforward to be a straight up drama. It's a very unique mixture of all of these aforementioned genres, but not in a way that is readily appealing to the typical Netflix-browsing viewer. The people I watched it with didn't think of it too fondly.

It doesn't set very high goals for itself, but what goals it does set it then achieves flawlessly. I'm hardpressed to think of one single flaw in this movie, from any angle; but at the same time, its whole being is just not the quality of a flawless movie. That being said, it caught my attention effortlessly, and gliding along in it unpredictable way, held it while adding to my interest all the way till the end.

Cool 60's Aragorn is cool.

That probably had a lot to do with the actors. I'm not much of a fan of Kirsten Dunst usually, but her character here was different enough from her usual fare that I forgot about that for a while. And the two men, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, are definitely on my list of favorites, and their performances were both quite involving. Mortensen does the complicated character actor bit, making a sharp and deep character that makes you forget that he's ever played some guy named Aragorn. And Isaac, who's a relatively new favorite of mine, impressing yet again with a character that has both the charm of the leading man, and the edge of something much more complex. All three actors find the right balance of getting you involved in their character, and leaving you in doubt of whether you should be.

That is something that could also be credited to the script, which seemed well-refined and was just complicated enough, or, perhaps even the original novel. The style of this movie is not so much in the plot or characters, but comes through mainly in the overall look. It all starts out light, and clean and brightly saturated, and as it progresses slowly get darker and dirtier. This effect was achieved in makeup, hair and costumes (I must mention that I loved the 60's style costumes) all the way through to lighting and filming. But the whole time the filming was and stayed quite elegant and pleasant to watch.

Blending in.

I would definitely recommend this film, but only for those who think they would enjoy a film like this. It's a psychological thriller, full of realistically complicated characters and their dilemmas, examining the way their minds work. But all in a way that is light. Mellow, but light. The "psychological" part simply makes you think about the characters and their motivations, and the "thriller" part just keeps you interested. Perhaps it should have been publicized in a more accurate way, but with The Two Faces of January, it seems the more accurate you are, the more complicated the description gets. I watched it for the actors, and found much enjoyment in it from more than just them. So, as to description, the simplest and easiest way for me to describe it is this: it is a good movie.


  1. Huh. The story doesn't seem super enthralling, but the cast certainly does;)

    1. It is certainly a character-driven story -- the cast is great and keeps things compelling and moving. :)