By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 11, 2014)
There’s something that Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, Rene Clement’s Purple Noon (and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 remake, The Talented Mr. Ripley) all share in common (aside from being memorable thrillers). They are all based on novels by the late Patricia Highsmith. Hossein Amini’s directorial debut, The Two Faces of January, is the latest Highsmith adaptation…but that may be all it has in common with the aforementioned. Then again, perhaps only time will tell us that for sure (and it wouldn’t be the first time that History has proven me an ass; but I digress).
While Highsmith’s pet recurring character Tom Ripley is absent in this outing, we do have our requisite Young American Abroad Who Becomes Ensnared In Intrigue (bet you’re glad I didn’t say that he “gets caught in a web of deceit”). His name is Rydal (played by Inside Llewyn Davis star Oscar Isaac), an Athens-based tour guide/con man who scams tourists. He may have more than met his match when he runs into Chester (Viggo Mortensen), an apparently well-to-do American who is traveling through Europe with his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). The three become quick friends. Too quickly. From the outset, Rydal and Chester circle each other warily, in such a way that telegraphs to the viewer that Someone’s Gonna End Up Dead. But who is conning who?
Don’t worry, I harbor no spoilers. If you’re an old-school mystery fan, and you’ve already read enough to be intrigued, I won’t stop you from buying a ticket. Just be forewarned: while this all sounds very Hitchcockian…don’t expect another Strangers on a Train here. The performances are good (Mortensen in particular) and the location filming is lovely, but there is something curiously static about the production. Maybe it’s because feels like something you might stumble across on PBS while channel-surfing on a Sunday night? I can’t put my finger on why it didn’t work for me. That’s the mystery…