The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January - Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Issac posterDirector: Hossein Amini

Writer: Hossein Amini

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan

Cert: 12A

Running Time: 97 mins

Year: 2014

 

The lowdown: For his directorial debut, Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini delves into a different kind of darkness with this taut adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s tale of greed and guilt. Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac make a tantalising triangle, degenerating rapidly in the sweltering heat of Crete.

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The verdict: Since Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train,the literary works of Patricia Highsmith have been favoured source material for screenwriters. Her recurring themes of duality, deception and morally blank anti-heroes make for fascinating viewing.

Set in the 1960’s, this interpretation of a lesser known Highsmith novel perfectly captures an era when travel was strictly for the wealthy and ‘foreigners’ were viewed with suspicion. From the bleached-out beauty of the Greek Islands to the labyrinthine back streets of Istanbul, the sense of wonder and dread for the intrepid traveller is brilliantly evoked.

Sleepily sexy Oscar Isaac, fresh from Inside Llewyn Davis, mesmerises as tricky tour guide Rydal Keener; a chancer using his charms to drain the drachmas from gullible society girls. His involvement with attractive, affluent holidaying couple Chester and Colette MacFarland (Mortensen and Dunst) sees his initially dubious intentions shift to something more complex as the pair’s murky past returns to haunt them.

TTFOJThe Two Faces of January - Viggo Mortensen

Mortensen gives a raw, muscular performance, soaked in sweat and insobriety, his controlled facade cracking as paranoia and panic set in. Complementing him perfectly is Dunst, her fragile beauty imbuing Colette with a warmth and sympathy that belies a cold trophy wife image.

Amini keeps the plot focussed on the central trio, but while this intensifies the claustrophobic atmosphere, it reduces the supporting cast to almost non-entities (although Daisy Bevan impresses in a minor role as an heiress on Rydal’s radar).

The decision to eschew flashbacks and stick to a traditional structure lends the film an old-fashioned feel.

Not quite Hitchcock, but a cut above the standard Sunday teatime thriller, largely thanks to sublime locations and superb performances.

Angela Britten