The Two Faces of January

I saw this a when it was released briefly a few years ago. It’s one of those movies I never got around to writing about, partly because I was too busy, partly because it’s only okay. This is from a Patricia Highsmith novel and it bears many of the hallmarks of her work, only… it leaves one more with the impression that it should have worked, but it simply doesn’t quite. This is the first feature directed by Hossein Amini, who previously wrote the screenplay for Drive, as well as an adaptation of Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove. It’s hard to get the moral conundrums of Henry James right in a movie, and he did quite a good job. It’s also hard to get the moral ambiguities of Patricia Highsmith’s crime novels right in a movie, and only Wim Wenders and Hitchcock have come close so far. Note I said “crime novels,” so no need to correct me about the wondrous Carol.

So American tour guide and low-grade charlatan Rydal [Oscar Isaac] meets American couple Chester [Viggo Mortensen] and Collette [Kristen Dunst] in Athens on 1962. Chester sees that he likes Colette, and later that night, he returns to find Chester dragging out the body of a debtor who has come after him. He helps Chester, becoming an accomplice. He helps the couple go on the run, becoming more and more embroiled with them, as well as enmeshed in weird crosscurrents of desire over Colette.

So it’s most like the plot of Ripley’s Game, which was made into the excellent film The American Friend by Wim Wenders, in that it concerns two men who are inextricably drawn into an uneasy connection through a mutual crime, then start playing a mildly homoerotic game of cat-and-mouse with each other. Only… it’s kind of one of those things where you’re more aware of how it is supposed to work and how it should have worked than you are of how it is actually working. All of the leads are just fine [although I wanted a but more from Dunst, and she just doesn’t have that much to do], and the film looks great and the locations are very vivid… it’s just that it’s missing a bit of focus and urgency and thrust, and the whole thing is fine, just ultimately a bit fallow and limp.

I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read all of the Ripley novels and several of her others, and all of it has been delightful, if you ever need something fun and not stupid to read. As for this film, though, it is perfectly fine and will pass time as well as anything else, but no need at all to seek it out.

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One thought on “The Two Faces of January

  1. “one of those things where you’re more aware of how it is supposed to work and how it should have worked than you are of how it is actually working”

    This is a really good description of how I feel about *so* many movies.

    Like

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