Tag Archives: Viggo Mortensen

Movie Review: The Two Faces of January (2014)

two faces

First the mirror, now January. Seems like everyone has two faces these days.

The Two Faces of January is an intriguing and elegant thriller set in the early 1960s featuring an A-list cast. It’s based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote The Talented Mrs Ripley), about a young con man (Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis) working as a tour guide in Athens who gets involved with a seemingly wealthy American tourist (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife (Kirsten Dunst).

It’s one of those classy yet twisted tales where interesting and complex characters who are not who they seem keep falling deeper and deeper and into a mess they can’t get out of. The fun comes from not knowing who is telling the truth and who is ultimately playing whom. There are twists and turns galore, but the progression of the narrative is subtle and deliberately low-key. Rather than a series of ups and downs, the film begins on low heat and gradually simmers all the way to the end without ever boiling over.

All three leads are phenomenal, as you would expect. Viggo, in particular, always one of my fave actors, shows again why he perhaps the most versatile and underrated performer of his generation.

The confident, controlled direction of debut director Hossein Amini, who also wrote the screenplay, is enviably stylish, creating a constant sense of tension and paranoia that’s hard to shake. Amini also wrote the screenplay for Drive, one of the slickest films of 2011, and the talents he demonstrated in that adaptation are in full bloom here.

The problem with the Two Faces of January, however, is that despite its look and feel of a top-shelf, A-grade thriller, the film’s story doesn’t quite live up to everything else. When you boil it down, the plot is actually quite mediocre and over-reliant on coincidences, resulting in a limp payoff that disappoints following the spectacular set-up. It’s one of those films that comes across as much better than it really is, and the more you think about it the less impressive it becomes.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the build up a lot and have feeling that Amini will go on to bigger and better projects. While it may fall short of potential, I’d still recommend The Two Faces of January for those with a taste for old-fashioned, character-driven thrillers.

3.5 stars out of 5

DVD Review: Eastern Promises (2007)

I had been wanting to watch Eastern Promises since it was first released in 2007 but never got around to it until now.  Directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) and starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl, Eastern Promises is a brutal, uncompromising story about a British mid-wife (Watts) who becomes involved with the Russian mafia after coming across the diary of a young girl.

It’s an incredibly dark film that has won acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the Russian mafia in the UK, right down to the tattoos their bodies are covered with.  The film was nominated for three Golden Globes (including Best Picture — Drama), and Viggo was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (but lost it to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood).

Eastern Promises is not an easy film to watch.  It’s hard to call it “enjoyable” because of how deeply depressing and violent it is, not to mention the mumbling (though apparently incredibly accurate) Russian accents.  But at the same time, I couldn’t help but be engrossed in the film because it kept taking me deeper and deeper into this frightening world, and there were plenty of unexpected twists and turns that kept me on my toes, uncertain as to what might happen next.  Thanks to Cronenberg, there is also this creepy, unsettling tone underlying the entire film.

Of course, there is the one scene that everyone talks about which I won’t spoil, but it’s an absolutely remarkable piece of visceral cinematic brilliance.

And you can’t appraise this film without talking about Viggo Mortensen’s performance.  It’s hard to believe watching this man on screen that he was once Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, or the loving father from The Road.  He’s an insanely good actor and in any other year he probably would have won the Oscar for his portrayal of Nikolai, the family’s “driver”.

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: The Road (2009)

There are quite a few excellent posters for 'The Road' - this is my favourite of the lot

Pound-for-pound, The Road is the most depressing movie I have seen in years, but it is also moving and strangely uplifting.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy (my review of the book here) and directed by Australian John Hillcoat (The Proposition), The Road stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a nameless father and son duo making their away across a post-apocalyptic America.

At first glance, The Road is a survival movie.  The world in which they live is not a pretty one.  Nor a safe one.  I don’t want to spoil it for those who don’t know much about it, but let’s just say McCarthy (and Hillcoat) don’t have much faith in humanity.  Even though I had read the book, seeing that brutal, horrific world on the screen still made my skin crawl.  There are a few scenes in particular that I will remember for a very long time.

However, at its heart, The Road is about a father’s unconditional love for his son.  Then tenderness with which the man cares for his boy brings a sense of hope into a hopeless world.  Despite how futile their efforts seem, you want them to make it.  You want them to live.

Visually, the film is amazing.  Hillcoat’s interpretation of the world McCarthy created on the page is grey, lifeless and frightening.  It’s not so much a visual style (like say Harry Potter 6) as it is a depiction of what our eyes would see if we were there in person.

As for the performances, Viggo Mortensen is sensational.  I can’t think of another actor better suited for the role than him.  On the other hand, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son felt more replaceable.  He was more than adequate, but I wouldn’t call it an outstanding performance.

The book and the film have a number of differences – more flashbacks, less repetition and increased action – but the essence is identical.  Most of these changes are welcome and necessary for the adaptation to work, so I don’t have a problem with it.  Well, maybe except the extended cameos of Charlize Theron, some of which felt like were there just to give her more screen time.

The Road is terrific (in both senses of the word), but be warned – it is a slow paced film.  There are some short bursts of excitement, and though it is never boring, there are lengthy periods of patient observation.

On the whole, The Road is a worthy adaptation of an award-winning novel.  It might not have quite the same emotional punch as the book, but when all said and done, The Road may very well be the most important movie of they year.

4 out of 5 stars!

[PS: I can’t believe that ‘The Road’ is receiving a limited release in Australia.  For a film based on a best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning novel and directed by an Australian with two Australians in key roles (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Guy Pearce), this is mind boggling to me.]

[PPS: Contrary to popular belief (okay, just mine), this film has no relation to The Lord of the Rings…except maybe Viggo Mortensen is actually Aragorn and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the son he had with Arwen…and the world is the way it is because Sauron finally got his hands on The Ring (ie Frodo’s ring, not the Japanese horror film).]