Overview:  A couple vacationing in Athens find themselves on the run and enlist the help of a young scam artist.  Based on the 1964 novel by Patricia Highsmith.  Distributed by Magnolia Pictures, rated PG-13, 96 minutes.

A Timeless Escape:  Patricia Highsmith’s novels are no strangers to being adapted into sleek, globetrotting thrillers, and part of the reason they’ve all been so successful is their loyalty to the setting and time period of the source material.  The Two Faces of January has the same old school, classic yet exotic feel as 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and both excel at showcasing the glamorous along with the grim, placing swanky yet dangerously damaged characters by placing them in locations such as Athens, Istanbul, and Italy.  Highsmith’s earliest novel was adapted by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who used Strangers on a Train to further cement his trademark of crafting films that feature swiftly moving plot twists and the framing of (mostly innocent) men.

The Two Faces of January draws from the best elements of both of these prior adaptations to create a smart, compelling crime caper.  First time Director and Oscar nominated Writer Hossein Amini manages to weave just the right amount of dialogue, action, and pause to maintain the tempo of a thriller and slow burn of an elegant period drama.  Each twist and turn is carefully calculated yet far-fetched enough to remind viewers that they’re on an adventure.

Two Faces of January

The Love Triangle:  Viggo Mortensen owns the screen in every shot of this film as Chester MacFarland, a con artist whose games have finally caught up to him.  His presence is a force of nature that uses both subtlety and erratic desperation to pull everyone around him in.  A volatile temper and a smooth talking charm makes it easy for him to master the art of manipulation, and Mortensen balances that delicate line between brilliant and unstable.  Kirsten Dunst plays the blonde bombshell damsel in distress well enough, but the other primary strength in this trio of performances lies in Oscar Isaac as Rydal, a tour guide who makes extra cash from scamming his wealthy clients.  He’s effortlessly suave and switches gears with conviction when he realizes he’s no longer the one running the con.  As the tension between Isaac and Mortensen builds up, the result is electric and worth the wait.  There’s no hero here, only two men looking out for themselves and one woman who’s unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle.

Grade:  B+