Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Movie review: The Two Faces of January

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Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst in The Two Faces of January.
Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst in The Two Faces of January.

They don't make them like they used to. Until, of course, they do and in the case of The Two Faces of January, they've made a film that is effectively a reprise of a reprise.

This directing debut by British-Iranian screenwriter Hossein Amini (who wrote the script for Drive, among others) is yet another adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel. Her works have regularly made their way to the screen since Hitchcock made one of his best films with her Strangers on a Train in 1951.

More recently, though, Anthony Minghella's 1999 The Talented Mr Ripley became the quintessential Highsmith movie.

The Two Faces of January, with its own story of dapper Americans finding murder and madness in the Med, owes much to Ripley. It certainly looks like it has the same tailor and travel agent, with Greece, Crete and Istanbul on the itinerary.

Unfortunately, it's not in the same league as Minghella's lush and lethal psychodrama.

It's shallower of character and slighter of story - even with its allusions to one famous Greek myth.

And for a movie seemingly powered by dangerous desire, it doesn't generate much in the way of heat.

It's essentially a three-hander. Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a young American guy working as a tour guide in early 1960s Athens, who inveigles himself in the holiday plans of wealthy New York tourists Chester and Colette MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst).

When the MacFarlands' holiday plans are interrupted by a private eye and they have to skip their hotel, it's Rydal who takes them to Crete to lay low. There, the young man is drawn to the older man's young wife. But Dunst doesn't have much to do, leaving Mortensen and Isaac to circle each other warily for much of the film before inevitably, something awful happens.

Isaac, looking here like he's just been to a costume fitting for The Godfather, keeps Rydal suitably inscrutable but Mortensen seems ill-fitted to the role of Chester, the upper class grifter. Though his suits sure are nice.

It's a classy looking movie for sure, and as pleasant a travelogue as Ripley was in its day.

But Highsmith's psychological edge is absent for much of this and its shade of noir has suffered a serious bleaching in all that Mediterranean sun.

Verdict: Throwback thriller looks classy but less than compelling

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Hossein Amini
Rating: M (violence and offensive language)
Running time: 96 mins

TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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