'The Two Faces of January' review: Throwback noir thriller lacks tension, energy
Despite a premise on con men and murder, this misnomer of a noir-ish "thriller" sleepwalks its way across Greece from beginning to end.
In short: An ex-patriot tourist guide (Oscar Isaac) in Athens gets caught up with a con artist and his wife (Viggo Mortensen andKirsten Dunst), forcing all three to run from the law after an accidental murder. (watch the trailer)
Although technically "The Two Faces of January" is a "thriller," it really just a slow-paced love triangle drama masquerading as a much more interesting movie. Even the most generic thrillers have three key elements: interesting characters, escalating tension and heightening anticipation. But the only more boring than this failed noir throwback's story, however, are its trio of bland main characters as they trudge through this poor attempt at a slow burn of a narrative.
To call "Two Faces" slow is an insult to the word "slow." The first two acts can be pretty accurately summarized as "Guy leads rich couple on tour of Athens, they have dinner and then someone dies. They get on a bus, drink all night and wake up at sunrise."
The glacial pacing would be forgivable if the story found other ways to ratchet up the tension -- but the filmmakers decided that a story about fugitives on the run wasn't exciting enough. So, in a completely misguided attempt to create character tension where none exists, a bizarre and oddly executed love triangle is wedged into the narrative. This lazy plot tool isn't convincing in the slightest - it's simply an obvious crutch used to make up for a lack of ability to forcibly manufacture anything thrilling about this "thriller."
Then there's the characters - the last place were anything surprising or suspenseful could be hiding. "Two Faces" teases some character histories that seem vaguely intriguing, such as alluding to secret reason the tour guide won't return to the U.S. or why the rich couple escaped to Greece with a briefcase full of cash. But alas, the answers are ultimately underwhelming in their sheer mundaneness. The reasons for their self-imposed exile are as frustratingly uninteresting as pretty much everything else about this movie.
Final verdict: Only watch this bungled thriller after mainlining adrenaline and shotgunning several Red Bulls, otherwise no one can fault an audience member for falling asleep before the end of act one.
"The Two Faces of January" opens in select cities Sept. 26 is rated PG-13 for some violence, language and smoking.