Beyond Fright Review: THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY

two_faces_of_january_ver5The art of creating a successful mystery seems to be lost on many of today’s filmmakers and their films. Instead of allowing a solid story to play out in front of you and keep you guessing, a lot of films falling into the mystery/thriller genre tend to utilize the same ol’ twists and turns we’ve all seen time and time again. When a film comes along and offers a story full of suspense and surprise, it’s a surprise and a very refreshing one at that. Luckily, DRIVE screenwriter Hossein Amini’s feature directorial debut, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, is just that type of film, one that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Adapted from The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY throws you into a thriller full of twists, double crosses and a love triangle that makes its viewers thrust themselves into a time and place that recalls the days in which Alfred Hitchcock ruled the genre (he still does, but I digress), and instantly invites you into the lives of three people who will forever be changed by a single decision and night. Telling the story of Rydal, (DRIVE, the upcoming STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS‘ Oscar Isaac) a tour guide in Greece that happens to come across Chester and Colette McFarland (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, THE LORD OF THE RINGS‘ Viggo Mortensen and SPIDERMAN‘s Kirsten Dunst), a wealthy man and his wife on vacation. As Rydal befriends the couple, it’s unclear what his motives are, with him acting nice and helpful, but slyly skimming a few bucks here and there while translating a bargaining of a small purchase between Chester and a local jeweler. Though Chester and Colette aren’t privy at first the the dishonesty of Rydal, we as viewers see it early on, making it easy to not trust him.

When a private investigator arrives at the room of the McFarlands’ and insists on speaking with Chester regarding him conning people out of money, an accident happens, leaving Chester with a dead body and Rydal being the only person he and Coletter knows. Rydal helps them get rid of the body and arranges new passports and accompanies the couple while they wait for the passports to finish.

While those particular plot points alone would make for a very entertaining film, what we get from there on, is one seriously well-written and acted mystery, full of twists and turns, and Amini pulling the rug out from under us as viewers more than a few times. The more we learn about Chester, the less we trust him, and the opposite can be said regarding Rydal. While his initial cheating the McFarlands’ out of a few bucks here and there might have been warning that he wasn’t to be trusted, the cunning and con-filled character of the film tends to lean towards Chester more and more as the film goes on. Suspecting an affair between Colette and Rydal, Chester is full of suspicions, and those suspicions only lead to darker and darker places for all three characters. It’s a back and forth game of making the audience feel sympathy for a character, then doing a complete 180, and doing that quite a few times throughout the film.

A very suspenseful and devilishly charming mystery of a film, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY succeeds at giving thriller fans a film that feels so close to the great classics of yesteryear, that it almost seems made in the wrong era, and that’s a true testament to not only the brilliant direction from Hossein Amini, but to the performances by Mortensen, Isaac, and Dunst. Each actor is top notch, giving memorable and very subtle performances that stick with you. It’s a great feeling to find a film that doesn’t make you ask yourself, “Why don’t they make movies like the great mysteries of Hitchcock’s anymore?”, because it’s evident in THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, that they indeed do.

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