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July 17, 2018 | Rome, Italy

The Two Faces of January

By | 2018-03-21T19:02:28+00:00 September 22nd, 2014|

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Date: 2014

Director: Hossein Amini

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kirstin Dunst, Oscar Isaac

It’s 1962 in Athens, and middle-aged con man Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) is on the lam from cheated New York investors, his ebullient younger wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) by his side. They’re on a European Grand Tour at the expense of the swindled. By chance, they rub up against a young American tour guide named Rydal (Oscar Isaac of “Inside Llewyn Davis” fame), who, fluent in Greek, runs his own racket fleecing tourists.

Chester reminds Rydal of his recently dead father, and the fate of the two men suddenly entwine. When Chester accidentally kills a private eye hired to hunt him down, Rydal intervenes to help (or so it appears), giving the couple safe haven in Crete — if only Rydal weren’t snared by Colette’s flirtatious looks.

Anglo-Iranian director Hossein Amani’s pretty-to-look-at debut feature, from a Patricia Highsmith novel, seems at times like a modest version of Anthony Minghella’s star-studded “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” another Highsmith yarn that applied a similar but more complex story to Italian locations (Minghella’s actor son Max is among the executive producers). The tension, such as it is, wraps itself around male rivalry, and that can grow wearying. But after the testosterone wars abate, Amini twists the story toward a noose-tightening conclusion, riffs on paternity contributing to an effective thriller that makes the best of location shooting.

Mortensen is his usual solid self, while Isaac’s Rydal is a typical Highsmith youth torn between larceny and love but getting full doses of neither.

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