16th May2014

Two Faces of January – Film

by timbaros

images-164A tour guide in Athens meets and gets caught up in an American couple’s web of deceit and crime in the exquisite new film Two Faces of January.

Oscar Isaac (who is so unrecognizable from his previous film role, as a down and out musician in the critically acclaimed Inside Llewyn Davis) plays Rydal, a Greek American who makes a living as a tour guide in 1960’s Athens, specializing in taking tourists to the Acropolis. He is a charmer, so much so that he charms the pants off some of his female customers, including Lauren (Daisy Bevan), a pretty young American girl that Rydal takes an interest in. One day while showing Lauren and some others the Acropolis, he sees a very pretty blond woman with a well-dressed but a bit older man. Rydal, we can tell, finds her very attractive, and he watches them as they walk around. Later in the day at an outdoor cafe at the bottom of the hill of the Acropolis they happen to be seated near each other, and Rydal can’t stop looking at the beautiful blond woman, and he practically ignores Lauren. The blond woman’s husband notices him noticing them, and he thinks Rydal is looking at him. Rydal gets up to go to the restroom, the blond woman’s interest is peaked, enough so that she follows him. They start chatting in a hallway, and soon enough Rydal (and Lauren) are introduced to Mr. Chester MacFarland (a very dapper and handsome Vitto Mortensen) and his wife Collette (an alluring and grown up Kirsten Dunst, like she’s never appeared before). Rydal offers to show them around the next day, and as he does, he gets to know them better. But Rydal isn’t foolish in making a little extra cash on the side when he skims money off of Mr. MacFarland when he buys things at the markets, which include a beautiful snake bracelet for his wife. Both couples meet for dinner that evening and when the night ends, they says their goodbyes. It isn’t until a little later that Rydal finds Collette’s bracelet in the taxi. Knowing how much the bracelet meant to her, Rydal tells Lauren to go ahead and leave without him and he goes up to the MacFarland’s hotel room to give Collette the bracelet. Rydal stumbles upon Mr. MacFarland dragging a man’s (supposedly intoxicated) body into an adjoining hotel room. And thus for Rydal there is no turning back as he unwittingly gets involved in the MacFarland’s dangerous plot and agendas.
It turns out that Mr. and Mrs. MacFarland are not the lovely, innocent couple from America that they pretend to be. They are on the run, as Chester has swindled loads of money from investors. They’ve got lots of cash, and enjoying every minute of it, but they’re hoping no one is on their trail. Unfortunately the man Mr. MacFarland dragged around in the hotel was a private investigator hired to find them. Knowing they are soon to be caught out, they leave the hotel and hope to find another hiding place, and Rydal offers to help them. But Rydal’s offer to help them in any way he can gets him more and more caught up in Mr. Macfarland’s crime (and once they hear the news that a man has been found dead in an Athens hotel, their desperation escalates.) But Rydal is falling for Collette, and Chester is very aware of this. But there is no turning back for all of them, even as they continue to face bad luck every step of the way, with Chester starting to unravel, with unforeseen tragic circumstances.
Two Faces of January is a taut, stylish and lush film that was shot on location in Athens as well as in Crete and Turkey, beautifully directed and written by Hossein Amini (screenwriter of Ronin and Drive), and based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley). The cast is first rate, and all are perfectly cast and unrecognizable from their previous performances. Davis has dark set looks which easily pass for Greek, and has hound dog eyes glossing over Collette when he’s with her. Mortensen, so unlike I’ve ever seen him before, is all cleaned up and extremely presentable as the conning Mr. MacFarland. His character is extremely charming so it’s easy to see how he conned people out of money. And Dunst very demure and stunning as Mr. MacFarland’s gorgeous wife, with her long willowy colorful dresses that any man can fall in love with. As for the title? I guess it refers to one of the characters being two-faced (not too easy to figure out), and it takes place in January, but that’s just a guess. As Two Faces of January continues to build suspense every step of the way, it’s weighed down by an implausible and unbelievable ending. But enjoy the film for what is it, a beautifully shot and acted film in the style of Alfred Hitchock.