Rydal (Oscar Isaac) works as a tour guide in Greece, though his knowledge of the history of the landmarks he takes the tourists around may not be as solid as he makes out. But he is doing this to raise money, as pretty much everything he does is, and if he cannot make it fairly he will pull a confidence trick on the visiting foreigners not as savvy about the Greek currency as he is. His latest conquest is Lauren (Daisy Bevan) who he not only fools into buying a drink for him, but helps himself to the contents of her purse as well, not that she notices, yet as he sits with her his eyes are drawn to a young woman at another table who is chatting to an older man. She notices and follows him to the bathroom - a mistake for both.
The Two Faces of January was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, therefore for a large contingent of the audience interested in this the comparisons were made to an earlier version of one of her books, The Talented Mr Ripley and comparisons were made - when the late director of that film Anthony Minghella was thanked in the credits, it made the connections all the more concrete. But writer turned director Hossein Amini, finally making his feature debut after a successful career in scripting, appeared to be equally as indebted to an earlier adaptation with great poise, not Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train but René Clément's Plein Soleil from around the period this was set.
This wasn't a Tom Ripley yarn, but like the French film Hossein followed in Minghella's footsteps by shooting his efforts in gleaming cinematography courtesy of the Danish Marcel Zyskind much in the style of Clément, meaning this was a work harking back to the past in its meticulous recreation of it. That was important, as just as Amini's script for Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive had been careful to come across as a film out of its own time, so Two Faces was a faithful variation on the Continental thrillers of the nineteen-sixties, and if it hadn't been for the well-known twenty-first century actors in the three lead roles then it would have passed quite well for a finely preserved example of entertainment from days gone by.
Only a couple of instances of more modern aspects - one swear word and one sniffing of sheets to see if there was an affair going on - betrayed the actual point in time this had been made, otherwise Amini had patently ensured everything was just so in his attempts to be faithful. This did present a plot perhaps a lot more straightforward than those addicted to twist-ridden thrillers of recent eras would have patience with, yet for others more attuned to some truly exquisite visuals and acting concentrating on character rather than surface effect this contained its rewards. You didn't have to be brought up on old time movies, but Two Faces was resolutely old-fashioned in a way that would be sought out by movie buffs less impressed with special effects than they were with storytelling.
The couple Rydal has seen are husband and wife Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst) and they are both intrigued by him in different ways. They are also hiding a secret, or Chester is at any rate, which gets Rydal embroiled with their troubles when he goes to return a bracelet Colette has left behind in the taxi they were riding in after a restaurant meal; when he goes up to their hotel room, he finds his new friend - who he has just conned out of a small sum of cash - dragging an unconscious man into a different room and feels it necessary to assist, out of politeness or possibly guilt. Soon all three of them are on the run with the authorities closing in, and Rydal is regretting ever noticing Colette, no matter that there may be a romance brewing that under different circumstances could have been beneficial to them both. Does Rydal reform? In its odd way, this was about redemption and how tough it can be to achieve depending on the depth of your misdemeanours, but you could just as simply drink in the atmosphere of sixties Greece impeccably rendered. Music by Alberto Iglesias (also classy).