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Manichean Menace

OUT NOW! Tense and ambiguous psychological thriller THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY delivers the goods.

He cut his teeth as scriptwriter on film versions of suspense-driven novels (Drive). Now, Iranian-born Amini steps into the large footprints of directors such as Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley) with a new cinematic adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith thriller.

Sexually loaded, ambiguous situations were a Highsmith specialty. In The Two Faces of January, tripartite tensions play out between suave middle-aged Chester MacFarland (Mortensen), his much younger wife Colette (Dunst) and American tour guide Rydal (Isaac) whom the couple pick up on a trip to Athens in the early 1960s. As Chester’s white-collar crimes catch up with him, the couple is forced to rely on a wider range of Rydal’s services and mutual dependencies ensue.

Amini ratchets up the pressure by concentrating on the father-son relationship between Chester and Rydal, exploring the good and the bad faces of the Greek god January with a screenplay that imaginatively pits age against youth and the old world against the new. Offsetting a golden, Mediterranean calm against the dark places of ancient mythology, DP Zyskind’s bipolar camera is consistent with Amini’s vision.

Overall, however, the film lacks the menace of predatory desire that a fuller exploration of Dunst’s role might have provided.

The Two Faces of January | Directed by Hossein Amini (UK, USA, France 2014) with Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac. Starts May 29

Originally published in issue #128, June 2014.