Monday, January 12, 2015

DVD/Blu-ray: "Two Faces of January" a classy, devious little thriller


The Two Faces of January (2014) 
96 min., rated PG-13.

Written and directed by screenwriter Hossein Amini (2011's "Drive"), making his directorial debut in adapting "Strangers on a Train"/"The Talented Mr. Ripley" author Patricia Highsmith's 1964 novel, "The Two Faces of January" may not be more than a copy of a great Hitchcock suspenser but comes closer than most to being the genuine article, and it's all very, very pretty. In 1962, Athens, Greece, American scammer turned tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac) sets his eyes on the wealthy Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), who looks like his recently late father, and his beautiful wife, Colette (Kirsten Dunst). Rydal agrees to show them around for the day, and when simply trying to return a gold bracelet to Colette at the couple's five-star hotel room later that night, he happens upon Ponzi schemer Chester trying to dispose of a detective's body. Chester first tries to play it off as putting the "drunk" man to bed, but then Rydal covers for him. The three of them go on the run together and then, let's just say, three becomes a crowd.

Good-looking and classily dressed, the film is full of surface pleasures, but it's also a treat to watch how this three-hander will unfold and conclude. Viggo Mortensen is solid, playing Chester as a business man trying to keep calm and cool before his facade cracks. Oscar Isaac might be even better as Rydal, a charismatic but mysterious enigma. Kirsten Dunst has the blonde femme fatale look, but given her talent showcased in previous demanding roles, she's not given nearly enough to chew on as accessory wife Colette, either, whose luxury comes with a sense of regret. The blackmailing plot twists and romantic entanglements have a been-there-done-that familiarity, but Amini handles it all with a balmy sheen and an involving amount of fun; the Alberto Iglesias music score pays a little homage to Bernard Herrmann; and the actors are all watchable. In the end, watching all of the unethical coolness slowly evolve from the cracks of the warm, exotic elegance keeps "The Two Faces of January" going as a satisfyingly devious escape that flew under the radar during its limited theater run.

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