The Two Faces of January review (Blu-ray)

The Blu-ray cover for The Two Faces Of January tells us that it's from “The Author of The Talented Mr Ripley”. And with those credentials behind this film, it really has got to live up to expectations. A tough ask if ever there was one.

In 1962, glamorous American couple Chester (Mortensen) and Colette MacFarland (Dunst) are touring parts of Europe. While in Athens they enlist the help of local guide Rydal (Isaac) to show them the sights. Yet Chester’s exterior hides a darker secret, and when Rydal visits the couple at their hotel he unwittingly walks into Chester moving the body of a man to another hotel room. Rydal agrees to help, but events take a sinister turn and soon he finds himself on the run with the MacFarlands. As Rydal and Colette become drawn to each other, Chester’s paranoia flares up.

From the pen of Patricia Highsmith, expectations of twists and turns akin to The Talented Mr Ripley are lived up to. But these feel different as they revolve around at least one person, but who is seemingly able to drag in those close to a web of deceit that keeps a constant guessing game as to where the film could finally end up. While there is the occasional sharp twist, most are slowly pulled out from within as the film progresses. Previous small delicate touches end up being a turning point in a twist later on.

Yet, the film doesn’t rely on the twists; the final act is mostly exposed as we follow Chester, Colette and Rydal as they try to escape the clutches of the law and each other without falling on their own sword. Director Amini crafts a thriller that doesn’t need the blackness of night to cover up the devilish deeds happening; instead he allows the bright sunshine and heat of Greece to fully expose the wrong doings. There is some wonderful cinematography alongside the storyline, these picture postcard moments look beautifully ripe set as the bold sunlight streams through nearly every scene.

It's pleasing to see Dunst finally get a role that requires more than just glamour. Here she is intrinsically involved in the main storyline. Soon the beauty fades and we are left to see behind the mask. Viggo’s over-confident richman soon turns to stammering and shaking skeleton of a man that hangs by his own actions. Its Mortensen’s best performance since A History Of Violence. Yet it’s Isaac, who seemingly has appeared from nowhere over the past year, that gives the standout performance. His initially wet behind the ears role soon turns to a heartless and emotionless portrayal of upmanship. A subtle yet calculating rendering that Isaac manages to deviate between the two with pure ease.

Shades of The Talented Mr Ripley are evident throughout, yet The Two Faces Of January has a unique blend of sunshine and crime, with twists that keep the tension placed perfectly on a knife edge.

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Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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