Since enthusiastically devouring a few of Patricia Highsmith’s dark, exotic and suspenseful novels, I’ve been excited about the film adaptations and a little skeptical about them, too.
Now I have the distinct pleasure of recommending the latest movie to be spun out of Highsmith’s prose — The Two Faces of January, from screenwriter-director Hossein Amini, who adapted the 1964 novel of the same name. In keeping with the year the original book was released, this tight exercise in crime, betrayal and the will to survive is a period piece set in Greece and Turkey during the early 1960s. Oscar Isaac, star of last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis, is American expatriate Rydal, working as a tour guide in Athens but conning the various tourists that hire him. Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are the MacFarlands, a well-heeled, vacationing husband and wife who get entangled with Rydel — and vice versa.
Circumstances bring the threesome together, an unexpected incident complicates matters, and dangerous consequences ensue when the trio heads from Athens to Istanbul. The relationships twist and turn; the backdrops are beautiful and shot with love and care. Highsmith specialized in stories about unsavory people doing amoral things. The Two Faces of January is no exception, and it spawned as satisfying and smart a thriller as I’ve seen in a long time.