“THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY” CHRONICLES ONE NIGHTMARE VACATION

January 29, 2015
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1 min read

An unseen gem of 2014 is now on DVD after grossing a little more than a half-million dollars in theaters. Forgive the pun (or don’t), but it’s criminal this sophisticated psychological thriller did not reach a broader audience.

Based on a 1964 novel by Patricia Highsmith, The Two Faces of January (set in the ’60s, like the novel) is about a married couple (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) whose Greek vacation in Athens quickly escalates into a nightmare of murder and infidelity. Considerably older than his wife, Chester MacFarland (Mortensen) is also a con man on the lam from some clients, seedy and otherwise, whom he has scammed back in the States. Though she’s not entirely unaware of her husband’s intrigues, his wife, Colette (Dunst), gets in even murkier waters after the accidental death of an investigator on their trail.

Making an unlikely third to their crowd is Rydal (Oscar Isaac), an American expatriate who’s also a shady entrepreneur, fleecing tourists who visit Greece, especially young women. Initially involved in the MacFarlands’ difficulties by accident, Rydal becomes a kind of facilitator in their efforts to flee, his knowledge of the Greek language and of the islands valuable assets. A growing attraction between Rydal and Colette results in similarly escalating tension between the younger man and the resentful husband.

That’s all the plot I’ll tell. To find out more, see The Two Faces of January. Despite a very short screen life, the movie presently boasts an 82 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Besides terrific lead performances, especially Mortensen (most famous as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings) and Isaac (star of the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis), this film is the impressive directing debut of Hossein Amini, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Wings of the Dove (1998) and Drive (2011), a moody thriller with Ryan Gosling as a stuntman/getaway driver. Amini also wrote the screenplay for the new film, adhering more closely than not to the novel, with a major plot change shifting the ending segment from France to Turkey. If the writer/director is not quite up to the complex psychological forces that propel the characters in the book, he at least makes an overture in that direction, particularly in regard to the complicated parental influences affecting the male characters.

The Two Faces of January is the latest adaptation (and one of the best) from the Patricia Highsmith canon. Hitchcock made one of his own best films (Strangers on a Train) from Highsmith’s first novel, and several other acclaimed directors (including Wim Wenders, Claude Chabrol and Réné Clément) have made impressive films from her books, particularly the five titles featuring Tom Ripley. Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), based on the first in the series, won five Oscar nominations and helped secure stardom for both Matt Damon and Jude Law.

Though the prolific Ms. Highsmith died 20 years ago, her novels still attract attention from filmmakers. At least three are now in one stage or another of production — The Blunderer, Deep Water and Carol, which is based on The Price of Salt, the author’s controversial lesbian novel originally published under a pseudonym in 1952.

That’s all good news for viewers. And don’t forget The Two Faces of January for your must-watch film list.

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Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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