In an era where so much of what we see on the cinema screen has been digitally enhanced to the nth degree, Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces Of January appears as something of a curiosity. Amini is best known for penning the Drive screenplay, but where that was characterised by its cool, noirish scenes of modern Los Angeles, his directorial debut takes us to the sweltering, sun-bleached Greece of the 1960s. An adaptation of an eponymous novel by The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith, everything about it is unabashedly – but refreshingly – old-fashioned.
As with many Highsmith thrillers, things begin innocently (and beautifully, thanks to Marcel Zyskind’s beautiful cinematography) enough. High up on the Acropolis above Athens, handsomely grizzled Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and glamorous young wife Collette (Kirsten Dunst) are doing what any American tourists would and taking in the marvel of the Parthenon. It is here that they cross paths with fellow countryman, tour guide and – we swiftly discover – grifter Rydal (Oscar Issac) who claims to have left a promising career back home to rediscover himself overseas.
Rydal is instantly drawn to the wealthy couple (and in particular to Collette), who are only too happy to take him up on his offer to show them around Athens. As the title suggests, however, all concerned are not necessarily who they present themselves to be. When an unexpected visitor knocks on the MacFarland’s hotel door, a chain of events is set in motion that forces them to avail themselves of more than just Rydal’s knowledge of the local tourist sites, and a dangerous game of intrigue, jealousy and double cross begins.
In an intimate study of characters cracking under increasingly fraught conditions, all three leads are superb. Mortensen is at his sinister best as a man powerless to stop his own mask from slipping, while Dunst is so much more than the woman in the middle of a desperate love triangle. For Isaac, whose dark, dashing features were made to convey drama, it is further evidence why the team behind the forthcoming Star Wars Episode VII were so keen to snap him up. A throwback it may be, but The Two Faces Of January is a league above what many of its contemporaries can offer.
The Two Faces Of January is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video On Demand from today.
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