Film Review: The Two Faces Of January

I came into this film not really knowing much about it. I wasn’t consciously avoiding it but I hadn’t really seen the trailer or read any reviews on it. I’d even failed to check the Metacritic score and can’t tell you the Rotten Tomato or IMDb ratings. My only real fling with The Two Faces of January had come from my Mother saying she wanted to see it and last week’s Wittertainment podcast in which Mark Kermode had aired his views.

Dr Kermode had essentially said that as films go it’s nothing exciting or ground breaking, but it’s not bad either. It fills that middle of the road slot. And that within the ‘psychological thriller’ genre that it cohabits there are better films of type – The Thomas Crown Affair – but that it’s not a waste of your time if you do go and see it. And so with that ringing in my ear, I booked the tickets and set off to my local multiplex.

And as the film’s opening credits rolled I sat back with The Thomas Crown Affair imprinted in my mind and as the film slowly started to open up and the story became to lay out in front of me, it became apparent that my literal interpretation of the comparison between the two films was wrong. They are not essentially the same story, simply the same genre. But that isn’t a bad thing, I love Thomas Crown, but that doesn’t mean I want a simple repeat. And once I’d wiped my mind and given January a clean slate, I began to see it in it’s true light.

And to begin with that light shone brilliantly on what appeared to be a clever, deep and potentially very dark film, not about one person stealing another’s identity, but rather about stealing his possessions, about taking the materialistic things he physically hold important around him. There was a beautiful game of deception and deceit being played out on screen and while it was only in the opening gambit, it was drawing me in and whetting my appetite.

And then suddenly, everything changed, the cards turned and the foundations of a good plot were twisted and spun into a game of cat and mouse, suddenly the film dropped its entire materialistic angle and became focussed on the characters interactions and suspicions. It was almost as if the story had rebooted and restarted with a new idea. As if the writer had decided to start again but forget to bin the original pages. And this new direction is sadly, then carried on through the majority of the film, but because it’s born from such a early and large turn in the plot, it leaves so many questions unanswered and complications to the story, that you never fully engage with the new direction and actually you withdraw from the film. I found myself simply “watching” the film rather than feeling a part of it.

The Two Faces Of January - Faical Closeup

And it’s that sense of watching that throws up another huge issue I had with The Two Faces Of January. I don’t know if director Hossein Amini meant it on purpose or whether it was my multiplex accidentally showing the film in the wrong aspect ratio, but everything was enlarged, every shot felt like a magnified close up. Facial features seemed stretched until uncomfortably dominating the picture on screen. I spent a long part of this film wishing they’d either pull the camera back 6 feet or that I was at home watching it on a smaller TV where this impact would be naturally less off putting and noticeable.

And just when you’ve accepted a strange cinematic style and a plot that has twisted dramatically and without reason they decide to do it again and the game of cat and mouse suddenly becomes swings and inverts to make the hunter into the hunted and once again confusion reigns as to exactly where the plot is heading and how the story will conclude. Honestly, the plot in this film feels more like 3 or 4 ideas slammed together and then quickly papered over so that they hope you don’t notice the joins than a really coherent or enjoyable story and that’s such a shame. I likened it afterwards to an artist never knowing when his painting is finished, when it’s right, working on and on, adding more and more until that original idea, the initial picture, is lost forever.

Not is all lost or bad with this film though. Oscar Isaac steals the show for me, coming from Inside Llewyn Davis you’d find him virtually unrecognisable and his performance has a real belief and power to it that makes you fully accept him and his character. And with Viggo Mortensen opposite you have a safe pair of hands, who apart from once in a while channelling his inner Matthew McConaughey, stunningly brings to life the mistrust, destruction and collapse into which his character’s life becomes embroils. But sadly, while the leading men in this film carry it through with power you cannot say the same about Kirsten Dunst. I never accepted that she was anything other than Kirsten Dunst in what appeared to be a cheap wig. And due to the enlarge facial close-ups that litter this film, too often we would be treated to an amplified shot of her eyes that rather than portray and older grown up lady, still seemed to shin with the scared naivety she gained in Jumanji.

The Two faces Of January - Kirsten Dunst Jumanji

And while I should probably now balance the scales with another positive element to the film, sadly, I can only highlight more negatives. Firstly the soundtrack just doesn’t seem to fit the music. It’s intrusively loud and seems to be used only to heighten and convey emotion. The orchestra get quicker as your heart is mate to start racing and BOOM – the action climaxes in front of you, but the volume is such that instead of massaging the impending senses that should build inside you, it stomps all over them and kills them off before they have any chance to seed, let alone grow.

But out of everything that’s gone before, this isn’t my biggest complaint. My biggest complaint is the pace. The Two Faces Of January isn’t a long film. In fact it tips the scale at a Hollywood crash diet of 100 minutes, but if you’d asked me afterwards how long I thought it was without looking at my watch I’d have placed it way beyond 2 hours and then some. It just seems to trudge along, getting ever slower and slower. Time almost seems to stand still and things plod slowly, monotonously, forward. I came out of the screening feeling confused, bewildered and virtually drained as a result. I really don’t know how it achieved such a dramatic and disappointing feat.

There seemed to be so much going for The Two Faces Of January, and as it started and I began to get involved I was sitting there thinking it was becoming a solid 8/10 film, but then the first twist knocked everything sideways and the longer it went on the more I was thinking 7/10 and then suddenly, the final, unwanted twist and unconvincing ending left me numbly convinced it was nothing more than 6/10. As a film, I think I’ll remember it more as a dramatic and prolonged fall from grace that anything worthwhile. In future, I’ll stick to The Thomas Crown Affair. Either version!

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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