The coffee is cold and the beer is warm as Rydal states. It’s been, I believe, said as a riddle, for one can pick up the definition behind it as the film reaches its conclusion. The characters only travel here downhill, and one of them is purposely involved in a situation that its outcome to him is a complete mystery as much as it is to us. Rydal, limned by Oscar Isaac, is a tour guide in Greece, an American, who meets Chester MacFarland, Viggo Mortensen and his wife Colette MacFarland played by Kirsten Dunst.
This is Mr. Hossein Amini’s first film; some if not aware yet, he is the screenwriter of Nicolas Wending Refn’s Drive (2011). Amini, what he has in store for us, is a shocker. The Two Faces of January is based on the 1964 novel by Patricia Highsmith. A thriller centered on a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who flees Athens after one of them is caught up in the death of a private detective.
Not sure yet as this is Amini’s directorial debut, but it’s possible this is his style of making films. And, if it is, I say that we have a film-maker here with a vision and style that for sure is set to get us all very interested in old school suspense and thrills again. The suspense and thrills that Alfred Hitchcock made famous; The Two Faces of January though could be just that homage to Hitchcock’s oeuvre. Amini’s obeisance, perhaps to Hitchcock, for the suspense, camera angles, character development and style all scream Hitchcock. There is a scene in the hotel corridor, where a man is dragging a man, and how Marcel Zyskind’s camera is following the character. The mentioned scene is just one of the examples. Amini surprises one again and again, not just with the toying with shots, but with the imagery and scenery. He has an eye for location, beauty, nature and culture.
Scenes make the film. They design the work of art as it is a structure truly all by itself. And, what embellishes the scenes, what provides a backbone to the film, is the soundtrack for it. And, composer Alberto Iglesias’ score for the film is majestic. It’s dark, darkly lyrical as much as it is romantic. The score also gets intense, but slightly and at times dominantly Hermannesque. It stirs the emotions and sidetracks one’s mind as if one is watching a film by Hitchcock. The score by Iglesias is composed as if specifically for the dim side of my very own emotions. Oh, and don’t worry, we all possess such side in our hearts; emotions hidden as secrets that we can’t disclose and choose not to.
Rydal here, along with Colette and also Chester, possess such side. Deep in their hearts they are scarred. And, this score defines their feelings.
It is a superior directorial debut and Amini has consecrated himself wholeheartedly in terms of, not just directing, but storytelling craft. His characters, just three, up and down as they go and in the meantime surprise us as much as shocking each other. There is at all times that cat and mouse game, that old school twists and turns and never, even at once, Amini as a director, present us that nonevent feeling that we often see and feel by some of the thrillers these days. His actors Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac with subtle performances adorns, enhances here the director’s work, his frame of art, especially Kirsten Dunst, whom, I believe, is a perfect Hitchcock-Blonde.
If you are someone, who enjoys Hitchcock’s films then The Two Faces of January is a treat, a gift actually.