Se­crets Se­crets and lies lies

This taut thriller keeps the fo­cus on plot and re­la­tion­ships, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

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.

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