Regular readers of this column know I have critiqued the distribution of certain films, in addition to the men and women who make the movies. I love a hidden gem as much as anyone, but I feel a particular disdain when films can't even be discovered. Cinema history is, unfortunately, riddled with great films that fell victim to lousy distribution, which, ultimately, led to lousier box office results (The Shawshank Redemption, Daze and Confused, Office Space).
I don't want that same fate for The Two Faces of January, which is tiptoeing into theaters Friday, Oct. 24, with little advance notice. It's a winning modern noir classic, woven of the same fabric as The Talented Mr. Ripley. It shouldn't be missed, but I'm afraid it may sneak out of town before you take notice. Don't let that happen.
The film is based on the 1964 novel from crime-fiction great Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, and the the aforementioned Ripley, part of a five-part series that stretched from 1955 to 1991). In 1964, The New York Times wrote that the fresh-off-the press The Two Faces of January was "an offbeat, provocative and absorbing suspense novel." A half-century later, it still packs a punch.
Highsmith's work has been expertly adapted to the screen and directed by Hossein Amini, who gave us 1997's The Wings of the Dove and 2011's Drive, two more films which deserved better distribution.
Greek legend tells us that January, or Janus, was a two-headed God, whose heads faced in different directions. The Two Faces of January reveals two very complex lead characters: small-town American hustler and gigolo Rydal (Oscar Isaac, who was so fine in Inside Llewyn Davis) and wealthy raconteur Chester (Viggo Mortensen, who was so fine in almost anything). At first glance, we're fairly certain it's Rydal who is up to no good. But a lost bracelet, a mysterious midnight visitor to Chester's hotel room and one gunshot later, Chester and Rydal are in a getaway car with Chester's wife (Kirsten Dunst, who is so good in this, we nearly forget she appeared in those terrible Spiderman movies).
The Two Faces of January was filmed, appropriately, in January, against the sun-splashed backdrops of ancient Greek ruins. The story exudes sexual heat, layered plotlines and top acting from Dunst, Isaac and Mortensen.
The Two Faces of January is currently available through video-on-demand (including Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and VUDU), but you'll want to see this one on the big screen. It's worth the price of admission–but please hurry.