Magnolia Pictures

Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes

Grade: B+

Director:  Hossein Amini

Screenplay:  Hossein Amini

Cast:  Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan, David Warshofsky, Omiros Poulakis, James Sobol Kelly, Evgenia Dimitropoulou

Screened at:  Dolby 24, NYC,

Opens:  September 26, 2014

When your friends come home from a vacation abroad, you’re polite: you ask, “How was the trip?”  Have you ever heard, “Terrible,” or “Not so good?”  Not likely.  “Wonderful, we had a great time,” is the usual reflexive answer.  However if a good-looking, rich couple planning the rounds of Athens, Rome and Venice were to come home–specifically New York based Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his much younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst)–and if they were honest, they would have to say, “I should have stayed in bed.”  While the romantic sojourn starts just fine, complications develop to make Colette question whether she should remain with her husband, or whether she should indulge in a tryst with younger, more robust Rydal (Oscar Isaac)—who looks like a young Al Pacino.

“The Two Faces of January” gets its title from the Roman myth of Janus, god of beginnings, transitions and endings, who has two faces: one looks to the past, the other to the future.  The three principals must consider bad things that they did in the past, how the past catches up with them, and how they will fare in the future when their lives are at the point of collapse.  Janus also represents the two male principals, both deeply flawed who grow to regret their past; two views of the same person, so to speak.

Iranian-born Hossein Amini is known mostly for his screenplays as this is his freshman stab at directing a full-length movie.  His scripts include those for “Jude” (a stonemason pursues the cousin he loves), for “47 Ronin” (samurai seek to avenge the death of their master), and “Snow White and the Huntsman” (a twist on the fairy tale wherein a huntsman, assigned to kill Snow White in the woods, instead becomes her protector).  Romance, revenge and mythology are his métiers, all three themes coming into play with “January.”

Amini wisely chooses Marcel Zyskind to film with gorgeous closeups of the Acropolis in Athens, some distant shots in Istanbul, and the winding streets of small towns in the Greek island of Crete.  The story is set in the 1960s, has a number of twists, is noirish with Hitchcockian undertones, with Alberto Iglesias’ music adding to the considerable tension. The genre most closely resembles that of psychological thriller, punctuating the rivalry for a beautiful woman between her husband, Chester, and the American tour guide, Rydal, who though not rich like Chester is younger, impressing Colette with his fluency in English, Greek and Turkish.

As for the flaws: Chester’s money is ill-gained.  He had become rich as a financial consultant by stealing from his clients.  Rydal is a scammer, leading tourists to Greek salespeople he knows, speaking to them in Greek which is not understood by his own clients, and pretending to bargain while actually helping the salespeople to overcharge with a tidy commission going to him. What’s more, looking to his own past, he regrets not going to the funeral of his father, who had died one month previous.  When Chester becomes involved in murder, Rydal becomes, in effect, his accomplice.  The three flee from the police in Athens, leaving Chester’s 5-star hotel in a hurry and hightailing to Crete.  All the while Colette becomes dismayed by her husband’s skullduggery while at the same finding herself romantically drawn to Rydal to Chester’s enraged jealousy.

The sparks fly early on: between Colette and Rydal and, in a negative way, between Chester and Rydal, the husband now determined to break up the relationship between the young man and his wife.  Viggo Mortensen looks splendid in a 1960s period white linen suit and combed-back curly hair.  Oscar Isaac, with his abundant black hair combed straight across, becomes the perfect foil for Chester’s rage, and Kirsten Dunst enchants as the fought-over third party, a woman who will probably end her marriage if she ever makes it back to New York.

Writer-director Amini’s movie is an exemplary illustration of the way that past crimes become a slippery slope to disaster.

Rated PG-13.  96 minutes.  © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+

Acting – B+

Technical A-

Overall – B+

The Two Faces of January Movie

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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