01 June 2014

The Lesser of Two Evils

I've been trying to go to see Godzilla at the cinema since I got back from Japan, but the timing and location of the 2D screenings never seem to work out. Instead then, I went to see something completely different: Hossein Amini's new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, The Two Faces of January. The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac and is a tense but sultry thriller set mainly in Greece in the early 1960s, and although I enjoyed it, even the strong performance from Mortensen isn't enough to save it from being consigned to film obscurity within a few months.

Mortensen and Dunst play Chester and Colette MacFarland, an American couple apparently on holiday in Athens. We see them strolling around some ruins where they catch sight of a young American (Oscar Isaac) working as a tour guide. The man shows up at the same restaurant as the MacFarlands later that day and we learn that his name is Rydal, he has left his motherland to avoid his daddy issues and that he has a sideline in scamming American tourists out of a few dollars.

Although Chester and Rydal mistrust each other — a sentiment that is not helped by the obvious attraction between Rydal and Colette — actions from Chester's past begin to catch up on him in such a way that drives the three characters together as the MacFarlands seek Rydal's help and they all head over to Crete. None of them can relax, however, and the tension builds by the scene, just as the glorious sunshine and spectacular Greek landscapes grow ever more idyllic.

Amini's film is punctuated by moments of sudden and intense action, but it retains an almost languorous pace as we — and the characters — try to work out what has happened and whom to trust (if anyone). Everything ticked along nicely and the ride was entertaining and intriguing, but somehow by the end, I was left feeling slightly underwhelmed. Mortensen, of course, did his usual gruff, austere and troubled act, but Dunst didn't have a lot to do and Isaac's character ended up seeming like too much of a cypher. The Two Faces of January is very stylish, but sadly seems to lack some of the substance that could have made it a great film.

On the plus, I was glad to finally visit the Shortwave Cinema in Bermondsey. It's now my closest cinema and I've been meaning to go since I moved to the area, but had only managed to check out the (excellent) bar previously. The screen is, er, intimate, but I enjoyed the experience and will do my best to support the venue a little more consistently in the future.

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