Starring Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac & Kirsten Dunst
This is Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini’s first time in the director’s chair and with The Two Faces of January he’s carved-out a comfortable groove to fit his directorial buttocks in the future. It’s an impressive tale of romantic rivalry that’s as handsome as its chiselled leads, crafted with elegance and simplicity. This simplicity however, is arguably the film’s most glaring weakness. It’s a competent debut in a variety of aspects, but it lacks the spark to set the screen ablaze.
Set against a glorious 1960′s Greek backdrop we witness wealthy American businessman Chester Macfarland (Mortensen) indulging in a sun-drenched vacation with his wife Colette (Dunst). The introduction of charming and cunning tour guide Rydal (Isaac) wedges a crowbar between the seemingly inseparable pair and the revelation that Chester is being followed by a Private Investigator proves to be an even bigger threat to their relationship.
Seeing the love triangle take shape is beguiling, partly because of the strength of the central performances. The usually warm Mortensen does a fantastic job at conveying sour jealousy and Isaac proves, yet again, to be an extremely magnetic screen presence. The chemistry between the two will be the film’s main talking point, but sadly the often excellent Dunst is served a pretty limp part and her performance feels lukewarm as a result.
From the outset the Two Faces of January promises to pin its audience to its seat, but in the third act its grip weakens slightly as it proves to be unsure about where it’s heading. It arrives at a fork – one road leading to riveting thriller and the other leading to beige melodrama. Instead of making a decision it decides to cruise haphazardly between the two, sometimes steering dangerously close to the latter.
The film arrives at a satisfying destination, but it uses some rushed exposition and forced character development in order to get there. It’s often a plot driven narrative rather than a character driven one and as a result it doesn’t fully engage, but it is, no doubt, an enjoyable ride while it lasts. It’ll be interesting to see where Amini takes us next.