Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Two Faces of January - film review

The Two Faces of January is a novel by Patricia Highsmith that offers one of her most successful presentations of a relationship between two troubled men. I talked about the book a couple of years ago, and wondered at that time if the newly made film would be as enjoyable. The short answer is yes.

Hossein Amini, making his debut as a director, had to decide whether to update the story or set it in, more or less,the time when it was written. He chose the latter course, and I think this was wise. Modernising the story would have entailed major changes, a high risk tactic. Although, inevitably, the story doesn't precisely mirror the book, it is relatively faithful to it.

The settings in Greece and Turkey lend themselves to evocative camera work, and Viggo Mortensen, a fine actor, is very well cast as Chester. I'm a Mortensen fan, but much less familiar with Kirsten Dunst, who plays his youngish wife Colette, and Oscar Isaac, who is Rydal, the young chancer who cottons on to them. Dunst's character struck me as more intelligent than the Colette of the novel, a change that did the story no harm. Isaac is very good from start to finish.

The later stages of the film struck me as more heavily plotted than the equivalent scenes in the novel. Again, this made sense: much as I admire Highsmith, I don't think that plotting was her greatest strength, and sometimes the later parts of her novels don't work as well as the earlier chapters.One thing that can safely be said is that there is a special quality of vividness about her writing which means that it can translate to film very powerfully. This is yet another of the films of her books which make excellent viewing.


pattinase (abbott) said...

We enjoyed this movie and you are the first person I know to have seen it. We caught it at a tiny theater while on a trip to Philly. I loved all three members of the cast so that made it triply good for me.

Martin Edwards said...

Glad we are of the same mind, Patti.

John said...

Really enjoyed this movie. I wrote about it enthusiastically on my blog a year ago. Maybe my second favorite Highsmith adaptation after Plein Solieil (aka Purple Noon).