The writer of Drive, Llewyn Davis himself, Aragorn, and Mary Jane Watson were all enough to pique my interest in this independent film. If anything, this mixture should prove to at least display some great performances and hopefully some worthwhile writing. In the end, I was mostly right (thankfully) and discovered that this film had more, and less to offer than I originally thought. Still, you can’t go wrong with that mixture (well, Mary Jane Watson is an exception, so let’s go with the lead in Melancholia).
In the beautiful city of Athens, Greece, tourists come and go as they behold some of the world’s most beautiful sights. Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a tour-guide that gladly shows people around the ancient structures and he’s also quite the charmer. He’s constantly getting close with younger, wealthier women and he’s so good that almost no one can tell. Well, almost no one. After meeting Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife, Colette (Kirsten Dunst), Chester catches on to Rydal’s ways, but also sees this man as a helpful person to have around.
When things go South in his hotel and a man attempts to assassinate him, Chester ends up killing a man and Rydal witnesses Chester moving the dead body. Before there’s much time to explain, Rydal agrees to help Chester and Colette flee, guaranteeing them passports and safety. They need to be secretive and calm, which could prove tough because Rydal and Colette seem to have eyes for each other. Tensions rise during the journey and as time goes by, everyone learns a little bit more than they’d like to about one another. There’s no telling if everyone is completely honest, but they’re all each other has at the moment and will need to work together, in order to have a chance to make it out alive.
The Two Faces of January is thrilling, until it becomes slightly dull, though its superb actors never waiver in their performances. The actors in this film were awarded the opportunity to play some intriguing, out-of-character parts that allowed for outstanding work to be done. I was quite engaged for a while, but the film deviates from its trajectory (which worked so well) and then end result is a bit of a mess that leaves you unsure of how to feel.
Hot off of his indie-success with Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac continues to prove that he’s an unpredictable actor that can excel in nearly every kind of role. He turns on the charm when he needs to and his slightly deceptive nature makes him all the more interesting. He does his best work with his eyes and reactions to the tricky world around him, especially when in the presence of Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen finds himself in a far more mysterious and self-abusive role than he’s ever played and he really makes a lasting impression here. At times frightening, Mortensen also plays fragile and emotionally distressed quite well. You’re never quite sure what these two men are thinking and it’s even harder to think of the tumultuous situations that they’ll get into.
In one of her best supporting roles, Kirsten Dunst makes sparks fly with her hypnotic performance. Much like Isaac, much of her work is done within the glances and stares that she provides, but the emotion in her voice also lends to her wonderful work. She exhibits wonderful chemistry with her co-leads and she’s the one that you really get attached to, because she so perfectly conveys everything that her character is going through. With Mortensen, she’s reluctant to be the wife he wishes she was and her deepest sorrows emerge to the surface. With Isaac, she’s more at ease and the two share a lot of intimate eye contact.
Hossein Amini has shown off his profound ability for minimalistic dialogue in Drive, also showcasing his use of long pauses and lingering looks. Serving as both the writer and director of this film, Amini is able to make the film according to his vision and the result is quite perplexing. The dialogue is just enough to give us a clue as to who these characters are, but much more is revealed through the looks and commentary that other characters make. Most of the time, this style works well and impresses. However, there are many awkward moments, where certain things that characters say don’t really make sense, or where the camera stays too long on something that has lost its spark.
Given the film’s quick, 90-minute running time, I did expect a little bit more to happen within the film. The initial setup is done quite well, but the execution afterwards was rocky from time-to-time. Certain sub-plots, while allowing for more character exploration, caused speed-bumps in progressing the story and when the film was said and done, I was left with mixed emotions. It’s not that I was let down by the ending, but more that I felt like the story could have gone on for a bit longer and we could’ve gotten to a point where we fully understood the character’s and their motivations. Things seemed a bit too convenient in the end.
The Two Faces of January is a showcase-and-a-half for its leading stars and the beautiful cinematography that always catches their eyes, as well as ours. Isaac continues to prove why he’s one of the best and most underrated actors in the business, while Mortensen and Dunst reaffirm why they have received such praise in the past. Amini plays around with a style that works for the most part, but he gets a little bit too into it and his ability to wrap the story up quite underwhelmed me. This film could have been longer and better, but it’s still a good film that’s worth the watch because of the talent it boasts.
The Two Faces of January Trailer