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Two Faces of January

Yesterday I travelled to the south coast to see Robert Tickler who wanted my view of a director whose film Robert was interested in financing. Dear old Robert was in jovial form, joshing with a plumber who was repairing his washing machine. “45 quid, Neil” he said, ” … less than a call out fee in London”. Later he asked me which film at Cineworld I would recommend we see and I chose The Two Faces of January starring Viggo Mortensen  and Kirsten Dunst. It proved an inspired choice as we both loved it. It’s based on a Patricia Highsmith story and these adapt well to the screen as the The Amazing Mr Ripley proves. The film begins in Athens in 1962, where a tour guide who is a petty thief sees a glamorous couple as a potential target. However the couple are not what they seem. The trio are locked together in a complicated relationship as the action moves to Crete,  with a denouement in the bazaar in Istanbul.

The film has everything: a strong, well-paced story, good locations, excellent photography and is well acted by the three principals. At no stage was I bored. Though there many turns, it avoided a commercial twist and we found the ending rather satisfying. Hossein Ahmed, hitherto knows as a scriptwriter (The Four Feathers, The Dove) has made an excellent directorial debut. There is a touch of Hitchcock, utilising outside locations and well-known places like the ruins at Knossos as a back drop to the drama and creating tense drama in unlikely situations. Set in 1962, the film has much period detail like Mad Men, when you could smoke on an aeroplane. Drawing on a cigarette creates an interesting facial shot and the cinema lost this and certainly did not replace it with all the mobile calls you see nowadays.

Viggo Mortensen shows what a fine actor he is with real presence. He may have made his name in Lord of the Rings, but he is a versatile, nuanced actor and here responds to an excellent part where you can never be sure how devious he is, attracting undeserved sympathy as he draws more innocent accomplices into his web.

My only minor carping would be that I could make no sense of the title, which does not seem to reflect the action unless we both missed something.


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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts