The Two Faces of January Reviews
The film, adapted from a novel, does a good job of setting a tone. The characters find themselves in increasingly precarious situations and emotions, creating a web of intrigue and complex characterizations. In this sense, the film had a very mature feeling that I appreciated. Its pace was fluid yet methodical, and the overall direction was tight and focused.
What the film lacked for me, however, was a heart. Not in the sense that it was too bleak, but in the sense that one can scarcely determine what the film is trying to say, what it wants to get across. It's almost bleak for the sake of bleak. The chemistry between the leads also leaves a lot to be desired, despite a talented cast, symptomatic of the failure of the script to really make us relate to the characters. We never fully get a grip on what lengths Viggo Mortensen's character is able to go, and the romantic overtones between Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac never ring true. The result is a film which feels competent, but not passionate or original.
Solid in many ways, not particularly memorable.
While it often falls back on slightly overblown dialogue and manipulatively recurrent scoring to get you by, the film is not as slow as I had feared, but neither is it all that thrilling of a thriller, partly because it feels a little watered down, and partly because it does, in fact, limp out at times in which material meanders, and atmospheric kick actually lapses. The film drags its feet to a runtime which isn't but less than 100 minutes, and which manages to shave off a good bit of time by jarring through a couple of segments and glossing over extensive characterization throughout as mostly active pace that settles in either to limp out or to focus on something separate from what is conceptually the central focus of the plot. The angles focusing on potential adultery are particularly forced, not just because they take you from the somewhat more interesting story about a couple running from possible the possible murder of a representative of violent men seeking closure for the leads' financial mistake, but because they're histrionic by nature, just as everything else feels histrionic because of an unsubtle emphasis on tone through prominent scoring and a couple of obvious visuals. As both writer and first-time director, Hossein Amini tries a little too hard with how he interprets Patricia Highsmith's melodramatic story, and it's not like the ambition is totally justified, because as intense as this story is, it is kind of too minimalist in its focus for its own good. More than that, it is too formulaic for its own good, because if nothing else is an issue, it's this film's being tainted with conventional dialogue, and driven by familiar characters and a typical series of events, outside of certain surprising twists which, even then, aren't built up toward enough for the storytelling to not feel pretty predictable on the whole. There's not much of anything new in this film, and that's as big a problem as any that I have with this film, combining with questionable pacing, structure and dramatics in stressing the natural shortcomings of this minimalist film, and rendering the final product rather underwhelming. The film actually sees a decline in quality throughout its body, yet it still manages to fall somewhere shy of genuinely rewarding, being sufficiently compelling, and good-looking to boot.
Hossein Amini seems to have a taste for period adventure, and in his first time calling most of the shots in something of an adventure film, to my surprise, he focuses more on the nevertheless undercooked characters than he does on sweeping settings, but when he does expand his scope, art directors Alex Baily, Katrina Dunn, Sandra Philips and Patrick Rolfe deliver on subtle, but sure compliments to the selling of the 1960s era, and on grand compliments to the restoration of Athens, Crete and Istanbul at that time, in all of their beauty. Marcel Zyskind further compliments the lavish look of this film with cinematography that is often handsomely well-defined, and sometimes breathtaking in its crisp emphasis on either glow or grit, drawing you in and capturing the rich tone of this film with a little more genuineness than, say, Alberto Iglesias' score, which is conventional and over manipulatively overused, yet nonetheless remains musical solid, as well as supplementary to the entertainment value and, to a lesser extent, dramatic value of this thriller. Something about Amini's directorial orchestration feels a little too ambitious, and that shines a light on his being a newcomer as a feature film director, but, at the same time, there is light on Amini's potential as a storyteller, found within his keeping up a mostly adequate pace, with thoughtful moments that, when not too slow, and not too diluted by contrivances, grip, like this story probably ought to. There isn't much dramatic depth or considerable dynamicity to this melodramatic and formulaic story, but this is still an intriguing, very Hitchcockian study of brief acquaintances finding themselves locked together in a run from the law, maybe to a new life, with shocking turns of events. There is a solid amount of potential in this story, and what natural shortcomings there are go stressed by problematic direction and scripting, but the direction has more than a few highlights, like I said, and through all of the contrived dialogue, uneven focus and slim characterization, Amini's script is tight enough to maintain adequate momentum. As for the humanity, whose prominence can make or break the memorability of this affair, what nuance is lacking in the characterization is made up for in the performances, at least those by Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, with Mortensen projecting a grounded charisma whose gradual incorporation of both vulnerability and intimidating make for an enigma of a man with a dark side, while Isaac charms and occasionally grips in his portrayal of a bright young man who finds his life and his faith in his new friends threatened when a brief companionship turns into a frustrating and dangerously uncertain adventure. These two men carry the film when it is at its lowest, and it never sinks that low, ultimately falling as pretty decidedly underwhelming, though not quite as forgettable, entertaining and compelling often enough to border on rewarding, even if only just barely.
Once all of the faces are revealed, the final product is rendered rather underwhelming by slow spots, limitations in characterization, a degree of unevenness, and a couple contrivances which shine a light on the natural shortcomings of a very formulaic story, but on the backs of lavish art direction, solid cinematography and score work, directorial and writing highlights, an intriguing narrative, and a pair of solid performances by Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, Hossein Amini's "The Two Faces of January" stands as a sufficient and sometimes gripping Hitchcockian-style thriller, for all of its setbacks.
2.75/5 - Decent
The Two Faces of January was a smartly written and very real sort of thriller. The performances of all three stars were excellent and succeeded in capturing my complete attention to the point I forgot I was watching actors. The pacing of the plot made sure the film was never dull and the chemistry between all three was perfect. Viggo and Kirsten were an actual believable couple and you began to empathize with them up to a point.
I know a lot of people have not been big fans of Kirsten Dunst's movie career but trust me when I say that this film may be her best. If you want to see her in a truly excellent performance, you need to watch this film. The same goes for Viggo Mortensen who I'm glad to see is still turning out classics. I guess I need to stop saying Oscar Isaac surprised me with how good he was since he makes every single film better just by being in it. I need to stop writing anymore and just drive home the fact to all of you that you need to watch this film. The soundtrack, setting, and story are all excellent and there are surprises around every corner. This is such an underrated little gem.