The Two Faces of January is set in 1960s Athens. It follows the story of an American tour guide, Rydall (Oscar Isaac) who comes across a con artist, Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and his younger wife, Colette (Kirsten Dunst). Chester owes a lot of people money back in New York, but when he accidentally kills a private detective he and his wife are forced to flee Athens. Due to unforeseen circumstances they're unable to do this so they get the help of Rydall who's willing to help them out of the country.
The Two Faces of January was a very tense movie. Much like The Rover last weekend, I went into this film without seeing any footage and I knew very little about the plot aside from the fact that there was a murder mystery (which turned out to be only half true). The film was actually very suspenseful thanks to its slow paced storyline, intriguing dialogue and the frequent rebuttals between the protagonists.
The pacing allowed this film to push you to the edge of your seat. What I mean by slow pacing isn't necessarily just the storyline, but also the pacing throughout several scenes. This is a technique used frequently in horror movies so they can create a thick layer of tension onto to already disturbing visuals. The Two Faces of January thankfully doesn't have disturbing visuals, but it does have plenty of slow moving, dark, eerie and silent scenes. There is even a scene early into the third act where a complete sense of paranoia kicks in and we, as audience members, are able to feel what the characters on screen are feeling at that very moment. It's as if we're in the scene and that really is one of the most magical things about going to the movies.
All three of the leads give it there all with the already fantastic screenplay. Prior to seeing this movie I was already part of the fan base behind the leads and while they've all given better performances in the past, they're all absolutely fantastic. This is in part thanks to the material that they're able to work with, both the book, which I have not yet read, and the brilliant screenplay by Hossein Amini.
The conflict between the characters allows for the 96 minute runtime to fly on by. For the entire movie there's an intense and sometime brutal conflict between essentially every character. There's constantly this feeling of dread where we're wondering if these people can be trusted and what are they going to do to one another next. I was both frightened and intrigued to know the outcomes of these characters and this allowed for the already short runtime to be gone before I knew it.
I didn't find myself emotionally connected the characters. Although I was very interested in the story they had to tell, I didn't find myself relating to these characters or really connecting to them on an emotional level. I didn't want terrible things to happen to them, but I would have moved on very shortly afterwards. This, for me, is an odd point to make as I did want to know what happened to them and how they evolved as people, but not on the same level as other films to come out this year.
To sum up, The Two Faces of January failed to make me connect emotionally to the characters, but nevertheless it was a tense, thrilling, intriguing, slow paced, fantastically written film with great performances and a watchable premise.
3 1/2 Stars