Patricia Highsmith was an American novelist and short story writer that was best known for crime fiction and had many of her novels adapted for the cinema these included what was probable her best-known character Tom Ripley. To this end two of the story’s were adapted, the first, and to my mind the best, was in 1960 and starred Alain Delon, in his first mayor role, as Ripley in Rene Clement’s Plein Soleil. Another version of her 1955 novel The Talented Mr Ripley was made in 1999 by the late Anthony Minghella and featured Mat Damon and the 1974 novel Ripley’s Game was also adapted twice, first in 1977 by Wim Wenders as Der Amerikanische Freund starring Dennis Hopper as Ripley and then again in 2002 by Liliana Cavani (best known for The Night Porter 1974) with John Malkovich in the lead part.
The latest adaptation is based on a less well known 1964 novel which has the same name as this new movie The Two Faces of January (2014). Its directed by Hossein Amin whose first feature this is and normally would be better known as a screenwriter for films that include the award winning Drive (2011) and the 2013 Japanese-American fantasy action 47 Ronin.
The story is set in 1962; a rich and attractive couple are staying in one of Athens top hotels. While Chester Macfarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his younger wife Collette (Kirsten Dunst) are out taking in the sites they meet Rydal Keener (Oscar Isaac) an American, Greek speaking tour guide. Chester suspects that he is ‘scamming’ young female tourists while showing them around the city! Impressed by the couples obvious wealth, Rydal sees’ his chance of not only making some money from these American tourists but also he is attracted to Colette! But all is not what it seems when Rydal gets involved in moving an unconscious man who its claimed attacked Chester. With events taking an ever-sinister turn we are never sure who we can trust and the threesome end up in a battle of wits than can only lead to disaster.
Amin’s old-fashioned melodramatic thriller is unmistakably similar to Highsmith’s other adapted stories with its element of middle class criminality, its good-looking well-dressed protagonists and the classy Mediterranean locations. In this case DOP Marcel Zyskind takes us on glorious travelogue of Crete, Athens and Istanbul. All three of the leads in the film carry the story with some panache, although the film is a health hazard as pointed out by the BBFC when it warned that there are ‘scenes of smoking’ a warning that certainly does not underestimate the power of passive smoking! You will probably notice in the credits Anthony Minghella has been thanked and his son Max was the Executive Producer of this pleasantly watchable film.