Secrets Secrets and lies lies
This taut thriller keeps the focus on plot and relationships, writes Donald Clarke
THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY ★★★★ Directed by Hossein Amini. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Yigit Ozsener, Ali Kalaba 12A cert, gen release, 96 min
Even if you were unaware that Hossein Amini’s sly, attractive thriller was adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel you would – if familiar with a few key works – deduce that fact after only a few seductive minutes.
Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst), a suave married couple, are smoothing their way about the ruins of Greece when they encounter a less well-heeled expat named Rydal (Oscar Isaac). He is not nearly so ruthlessly malign as Highsmith’s Ripley, but the urge to exploit his supposed betters is the same.
Using his facility for Greek and the couple’s own ignorance of the language, Rydal creams a few fistfuls of drachma from every deal he facilitates. One gets the sense that Chester and Colette don’t really care whether they are paying the right price. Then a visitor reveals the source of their wealth and triggers catastrophe that sends them on the run. The stakes are suddenly a great deal higher.
As is often the case with Highsmith, the story is more about the creepy emotional attachments than the mechanics of crime. Chester comes to suspect that Rydal and Collette may have eyes for one another, but we suspect something more complex is afoot. Though the younger con artist certainly sees something of his late father in his co-conspirator, a few sly camera inclinations and a few coy looks allow us to take away faint homoerotic connotations.
All three actors, saddled with different levels of amorality, dive into the moral sludge with great enthusiasm. Isaac is slippery. Mortensen oozes hubris. Dunst revels in self-delusion.
The film looks and sounds lovely. Alberto Iglesias’s music sweeps while Marcel Zyskind’s camera captures every rich hue of the beautiful scenery. But, unlike Anthony Minghella’s overstretched The Talented Mr Ripley, Amini’s film never makes fetishes of the antique architecture, period clothing or expensive accessories.
This is a taut thriller whose gaze is always focused on the progress of plot and relationships. It is a less weighty thing than the Minghella film and all the better for it.