Director Hossein Amini’s stylish new thriller set in Greece is thoroughly entertaining and pleasingly one-dimensional – an attractive piece of cinema.

The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst, is adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, so plot comparisons with The Talented Mr Ripley are inevitable: A wealthy American couple, Chester (Mortensen) and Colette McFarland (Dunst) are happily gadding about the Parthenon when they meet a tall, dark and broodingly handsome American tour guide, Rydal (Isaac) who speaks perfect Greek and swindles small change from his college-girl customers. There are similarities, yes, but this isn’t quite the psychotic tale that Ripley was.

It’s not long before the three characters are thrown together into hot water. Chester’s dodgy dealings are revealed when a private detective shows up at his hotel and a series of calamities sees the trio on the run to Crete before the night is out: It’s delightfully quick paced.

The Two Faces of January movie poster
There is some tension between Colette and Rydal, but it’s subtle – to a fault – and mostly it’s imagined by Chester. The most interesting relationship on screen is the one between Chester and Rydal: Both Mortensen and Isaac are excellent. Mortensen is vain and suspicious: Isaac is shrewd, disguised. The female character is, typically and unfortunately, the weakest, but through no fault of Dunst’s who brings a credibility to the vacant Colette.

There is plenty to feast the eyes on. The costumes are spectacular. Colette wears fabulous vintage wiggle dresses and cat-eye sunglasses. Chester wears white linen suits – which stay white throughout – with a tie and panama hat. From Athens to Crete, amidst ruins, sun-drenched side streets and Greek tavernas, 1960’s Greece might just be the star of the film.

The greatest criticism of this film is the one-dimensionality of the characters – they’re not fully formed, their motives never fully explained. However, as the film eventually spirals into melodrama, it seems appropriate to accept the vacant caricatures and the spectacle for what they represent – a very attractive piece of cinema with enough twists and turns to thrill.

At selected cinemas only, from May 16th. 

 

Lead photo by Jack English – © 2014 – StudioCanal

 

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