Hossein Amini was behind the screenplays for Iain Softley’s adaptation of The Wings Of The Dove and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, among others, so he was reasonably well-known among film fans before making his debut as a director with 2014’s The Two Faces Of January. As first projects go it’s a fairly safe bet: based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, it’s a close cousin to her Ripley stories, some of which have successfully made the transition from page to screen before, most notably in 1960 (Plein Soleil) and 1999 (The Talented Mr. Ripley). Amini adapted this particular book himself, and wisely he stayed true to the early-1960s setting, thereby allowing his stars to look pretty damn good in their smart and stylish vintage costumes. The three in question are Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac; the former two play Chester and Colette McFarland, an American married couple on holiday in Athens, while the latter is Rydal, a young American tour guide who scams tourists in his newly-adopted Greek home. All three appear to come from moneyed backgrounds, though as per usual with Highsmith’s stories initial appearances can be deceptive, and the two men in particular are adept at keeping their true intentions and their past indiscretions hidden. Their paths cross at the Acropolis, initially, and Rydal lays the charm on thick, impressing Colette while simultaneously irritating (and later conning) Chester. The trio do share an enjoyable evening together along with Rydal’s date Lauren (Daisy Bevan), but later on Rydal discovers Chester isn’t the man he thought he was, and witnesses the aftermath of a situation that developed in the McFarland hotel suite: Rydal initially tries to help Chester as he feels he will be rewarded handsomely for any services he can provide, but he also does this so that he can spend more time with Colette, and as their mutual attraction develops the two men end up at loggerheads.
Amini makes a decent fist of it: the three main actors are fine – though it’s a shame that none of them excel – and the material has been handled confidently enough, the director notably employing a brisk pace and a number of medium and long shots to show off the impressive locations. The narrative skips from mainland Greece across the sea to Crete – the labyrinth of Knossos featuring during one vaguely twisty sequence – and on to Turkey, where the bazaars of Istanbul form the backdrop for a final act showdown. It’s all rendered in a very modishly-retro and sun-kissed fashion, though I wonder whether the emphasis is on style at the expense of substance; the title of Highsmith’s book nods to Greek mythology, but Amini struggles to link this ancient culture to his American characters, save for a brief shot of a mural depicting Theseus and the Minotaur after Chester and Rydal come to blows. The trio aren’t particularly memorable or interesting, and what happens to each one in turn is fairly predictable; no doubt it’s because of the Mediterranean setting but I kept wanting a Tom Ripley or a Dickie Greenleaf to suddenly gatecrash the film. Still, there are some enjoyable tense moments, particularly as characters attempt to outsmart one another at ferry terminals and airports, and all told it’s a neat, compact and unchallenging thriller, containing the kind of lovely cinematography that’ll make you ache for a holiday in south-western Europe.
Directed by: Hossein Amini.
Written by: Hossein Amini. Based on The Two Faces Of January by Patricia Highsmith.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst.
Cinematography: Marcel Zyskind.
Editing: Nicholas Chaudeurge, Jon Harris.
Music: Alberto Iglesias.
Running Time: 94 minutes.