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Arts & Life

Film Review: Danger Looks Good In 'The Two Faces of January'

Magnolia Pictures

In the sordid world of cult novelist Patricia Highsmith, everyone who isn’t an outright villain still manages to harbor dark secrets. Movies made from her books include Alfred Hitchcock’s twisted and campy Strangers on a Train and Anthony Minghella’s gloriously decadent The Talented Mr. Ripley. The latest is called The Two Faces of January. Though it's not as successful as its predecessors, it is stylish, suspenseful and awfully pretty to look at.

Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst play Chester and his third wife, Colette, who are on holiday in Athens, where their gleaming good looks are a sharp contrast to the crumbling ruins. They catch the eye of a suspiciously charming tour guide named Rydell, played by Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis). His modus operandi is to woo and then bilk young female tourists; drawn to Chester’s sophistication and Colette’s beauty, he’s more than eager to bask in their respective assets.

Visiting the couple’s hotel to return a bracelet, Rydell espies Chester clumsily carrying what looks like a comatose man down the hall. Chester sees that Rydell has witnessed his predicament and self-preservation kicks in; the former insinuates the latter into frantic efforts to get out of Athens before authorities start poking around. What ensues is a series of obstacles – especially passport trouble, which Rydell conveniently knows how to fix – and close calls and misguided attractions until a shocking turn adds another layer of desperation.

The Two Faces of January is the first feature directed by Hossein Amini, whose screenplay for Drive propelled that film to the excellent contemporary noir it was. Many of the scenes here throb with the tension between attraction and repulsion; the beauty of the cast is seductive, while their shadiness emits a whiff of danger.

The Two Faces of January | Dir. Hossein Amini | 96 min.| PG13 |Playing at the Tivoli Theatre, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City Mo., 816-561-5222

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