21 May 2014

Hossein Amini’s ‘The Two Faces of January’

The novelist Patricia Highsmith is probably best remembered for her five stories published between 1955 and 1991 concerning the felonies and misdemeanours of Tom Ripley. A cultivated but utterly ruthless man, he murders without hesitation for money and self-preservation. Originally American, but thoroughly Europeanised, he lives not far from Paris with his French heiress wife in their home, Belle Ombre, - which translates into English as Beautiful Shadow, the apt main title of Andrew Wilson’s Life of Patricia Highsmith, published in 2010.

The two male main characters in Amini’s The Two Faces of January, which he has based on one of Highsmith’s other novels originally published in 1964, certainly display Ripleyish tendencies. Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), a New Yorker, is on holiday in Greece with his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). They strike up a friendship with tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac), an American student. Events turn this relationship into a disastrous conspiracy, not eased by Rydal’s interest in Colette. Isaac portrays Rydal as being a more intelligent and less flawed character than his Llewyn Davis, by the way.

Amini’s adaptation and direction carefully retained Highsmith's setting of Greece in 1962. The locations and costumes, and the deployment of lorry-loads of props and bus-loads of extras, make the film attractive to watch and Amini justly praises his “brilliant production crew” in Crete. Taken as a whole though, some people may feel it lacks pace but fails by way of compensation to provide much depth of psychological insight.

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