The Two Faces of January - reviews of 'elegant' thriller

May 16, 2014

Lush, Hitchcock-style adaptation of Highsmith novel has critics on the edge of their seats

What you need to know
American thriller The Two Faces of January opens in UK cinemas today. The film, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, is a directorial debut for British-Iranian screenwriter Hossein Amini (Drive, Wings of a Dove).  

Set in the early 1960s the film focuses on an elegant American couple played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst who befriend American expat (Oscar Isaac) working as a tour guide in Athens. A death at the couple's hotel forces all three to flee to Crete, then Turkey, as dangerous tensions between the trio emerge.

What the critics like
This is a superior directorial debut for a smart, literate screenwriter that "delivers both first-class character drama and edge-of-your-seat suspense", says Angie Errigo in Empire. Amini lays the psychological groundwork beautifully, and as the pace accelerates to a life-or-death climax it's nail-biting, bullet-sweating time.

This Highsmith adaptation is "an elegantly pleasurable period thriller, a film of tidy precision and class", says Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph. Mortensen and Isaac excel at the push-pull of this wary pact between swindlers and Dunst's intelligent performance elevates her from love-triangle cypher.  

This film "should have no trouble seducing Hitchcock fans with its golden-hued tour of southeast Europe", says Peter Debruge in Variety. Yet while its exotic backdrops entice, the true pleasures lie in the way it sets up and then subverts snap character judgments.

What they don't like
This is not the easiest Highsmith thriller to bring to the screen, says Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. It's truly lush and the acting is subtle, but since it is "entirely built around a trio of greedy, lying, vapid losers", it's unlikely to knock The Talented Mr Ripley from its pedestal in the Highsmith pantheon.    

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