The Two Faces of January

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Two Faces of January Movie Poster Image
Stylish thriller set in '60s Greece has drinking, smoking.
  • PG-13
  • 2014
  • 97 minutes

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Kids say

age 17+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Lies have a way of catching up with people -- and the more lies they tell, the more they come back to haunt them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character is a small-time con man who's sucked into a relationship with a real swindler and eventually realizes that he's in way over his head. While the swindler is eventually dragged down by his crimes and his lies, the other man is able to extricate himself from a dire situation by coming clean.


A few scenes include sudden, unexpected violence. A fist fight becomes a deadly encounter, and an argument between a husband and wife takes a surprising and tragic twist.


No simulated sex; one brief scene shows a woman changing clothes, seen from behind. There's a strong undercurrent of sexual tension among the three main characters, a married couple and a single man who clearly covets the wife. Her husband isn't oblivious, and his jealousy sometimes drives his wife away.


Infrequent swearing includes "f--k" and "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The two male leads smoke cigarettes heavily, in almost every scene (accurate for the era). They also drink often, and one gets quite drunk on multiple occasions, triggering bouts of anger and jealousy. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Two Faces of January is a stylish thriller set in Greece and Turkey in the early 1960s. Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley), the story revolves around a married couple and a young American guide they meet; none of the three main characters is who they seem. Expect a good deal of drinking; one of the men is an ugly drunk who gets jealous and violent when he's had too much. There's also occasional swearing (including "s--t" and "f--k"), an undercurrent of sexual tension among the characters, and lots and lots of era-accurate smoking.

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What's the story?

Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a young American trying to find himself in Greece in 1962, working as a tour guide who doesn't mind making a dishonest buck or two off naive tourists. His newest clients, a wealthy New York couple played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, seem as genteel as you can get ... until Rydal discovers the man in a compromising position that has them on the lam. Rydal soon learns more about the couple than he probably should know and winds up in much too deep.

Is it any good?

For capturing the look and feel of Europe in the early 1960s, especially of the American expatriates who roamed the continent, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY deserves kudos. Based on Patricia Highsmith's novel (she also wrote the book that inspired 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley), the film makes an effort to get the details right, even if the entire story, despite a fiendish plot, seems strangely devoid of intimacy (with a love triangle, of sorts, at its center, that seems odd). It also lacks the kind of sophisticated ending befitting the rest of the story.

Nonetheless, what a journey for the trio. Mortensen is his dastardly best. When the film begins, we're tricked into thinking he's one kind of person, but he's far more interesting than he first appears. And loads of credit to the entire cast: Dunst is strong, and Isaac is a fine match for Mortensen. But back to that ending: The film really deserves something better.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the characters in The Two Faces of January. All of them seem to be trying to con each other. Do you trust any of them? Are any of them intended to be role models?

  • How is drinking portrayed in the movie? What about smoking? Is it OK to have lots of smoking in a movie if it takes place during a time when smoking was more widespread/accepted? What impact does that have on modern viewers?

  • Why do you think Rydal is hanging around with the married couple? What does he want?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

Themes & Topics

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