Extra Cinema: The Two Faces of January (12A)

Undated Film Still Handout from The Two Faces Of January. Pictured: Kirsten Dunst as Colette MacFarland, Viggo Mortensen as Chester MacFarland and Oscar Isaac as Rydal. See PA Feature FILM FILM Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Studio Canal. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM FILM Reviews.

Undated Film Still Handout from The Two Faces Of January. Pictured: Kirsten Dunst as Colette MacFarland, Viggo Mortensen as Chester MacFarland and Oscar Isaac as Rydal. See PA Feature FILM FILM Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Studio Canal. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM FILM Reviews.

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Starring: Viggo Mortenen, Kirsten Dunst

Director: Hossein Amini

Like Agatha Christie before her, Patricia Highsmith repeatedly challenged the moral compass of her readers with psychological thrillers that nudged characters to the brink of madness.

Almost 50 years later, Anthony Minghella tapped into the disturbing sexual undercurrents of her 1955 novel The Talented Mr Ripley.

The Two Faces Of January was published almost a decade after Highsmith unleashed her iconic con artist, and once again, she indulges in skulduggery albeit in sun-baked 1960s Athens.

Hossein Amini’s slow-burning film version conceals its Machiavellian machinations behind an elegant facade of impeccable period costumes and picturesque cinematography.

Yet, the focus of Amini’s lean script is the characters’ relationships and notably the frayed bonds of trust between two men, who must rely on each other to escape a predicament of their own making.

Shot on location in Greece and Turkey, The Two Faces Of January nods to both Highsmith and Hitchcock.

Mortensen and Oscar Isaac relish fractious exchanges, creating a twisted father-son dynamic with Oedipal yearnings for Dunst’s third wheel.

Her role feels slightly undernourished but she’s pivotal to the on-screen chicanery and the film’s centrepiece in subterranean gloom.

Because it’s under the comforting cloak of darkness that men’s ugly, true natures are revealed.

R