~Downstairs at the Savoy~
The Two Faces of January
Rated PG-13; 97 minutes
Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph (excerpted)
The Two Faces of January, adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr Ripley), is an elegantly pleasurable period thriller, a film of tidy precision and class. It’s the directorial debut of Hossein Amini, the British-Iranian screenwriter best-known for the Oscar-nominated The Wings of the Dove and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. His skill as a scenarist shines through in this three-person rummy game - tightly engineered, no wasted words. It’s also a treat to look at and listen to, evoking old-fashioned movie virtues, and showing us a lush but suspenseful good time.
From the start, as holidaying Americans Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst) take a turn around the Parthenon in 1962, we get that tingle that comes with feeling in safe hands. Amini has borrowed cinematographer, Marcel Zyskind, from Michael Winterbottom, and a composer, Alberto Iglesias, from Pedro Almódovar. Their combined efforts are seductive but also expressive, honed to a purpose. And the lemon dress Dunst is wearing may be the most perfectly stylish thing we’ve ever seen her in. You want her performance to live up to her gorgeous look, and it does.
This couple, the MacFarlands, have escaped for the summer, and for a brief stretch they look like prey, at least to the unscrupulous gaze of a small-time con artist called Rydal (Oscar Isaac). Handsome as a faun, this devil has been charming young travellers as a tour guide, then exploiting their faulty Greek to short-change them, a tactic he tries out on these two fellow Americans at a street market. His hand around Colette’s wrist, as he helps her to try on a bracelet, is a virtual promise of amorous frissons to come. But there turns out to be larceny on both sides.