Beautifully shot, well acted and well written, 2014’s The Two Faces Of January is an enjoyable thriller, however you can’t help but feel that an important element is missing from the finished film. Writer/director Hossein Amini’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel is an elegant film but it just doesn’t feel urgent enough. Set in 1962, the film sees an American couple (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) who are visiting Greece fall-in with an eager tour guide (Oscar Isaac). Things take a turn when Mortensen accidentally kills a man and the three of them are forced to go on the run. Lies and betrayal interact as the three characters decide that it’s everyone for themselves.
It’s unfair to compare The Two Faces Of January to The Talented Mr Ripley, but these comparisons will be made as both are adaptations of Highsmith’s thrillers, set in exotic locales. This means that The Two Faces Of January will always be the poor relation to Anthony Minghella’s 1999 Matt Damon starrer. Amini’s film doesn’t have the edge of seat thrills that marked Mignhella’s effort as a high class psychological thriller. The duplicity on show here isn’t elegant enough and none of the characters break-out to show why they’re doing what they’re doing. At times it seems like the characters are double-crossing each other just because they can. I don’t know if this failing is just in Amini’s screenplay, or if it’s an issue which is inherent in Highsmith’s novel, but something tells me it’s the former.
Credit must be given to the actors because they make the tangled web of deceit appear sophisticated. Mortensen plays the much older husband worried that his wife is having an affair with Isacc’s younger usurper, a nice bit of role reversal to the actor’s part in 1998’s A Perfect Murder. Isaac also impresses, while Dunst manages to hold her own in a part which could have potentially been wafer thin.
The Two Faces Of January is a good movie; it’s just not a great one. It will play well on a lazy Sunday afternoon and it will engage fans of stylish thrillers. However, the wonderful scenery and top-notch acting can’t cover-up the fact that this is a thriller that is somewhat lacking in the thrills department. Amini’s directorial debut is an impressive production but it’s just not an essential one and that makes this a missed opportunity.