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The Two Faces of January (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 96 minutes.

OK for children.

This is an atmospheric, scintillating tale of intrigue that would have been right at home in the 1940s when they made movies like this. Adapted from Patricia Highsmithís 2 decade old book of the same name, Viggo Mortenson and Kirsten Dunst are an American couple vacationing in Greece when they meet Oscar Isaac (fresh off his wonderful performance in the title role of Inside Llewyn Davis last year), a charming American who preys on young tourist girls to fleece them out of their money.

But not is all it seems when the movie starts with beautiful opening scenes around The Parthenon, where the main characters come together. Hossein Amini, who wrote the equally intriguing Drive (2011), shows in his directorial debut that he has an acute feel for Hitchcockian atmosphere and suspense. Set in 1962, the film travels from Athens to the Greek Islands to Istanbul with outstanding cinematography (Marcel Zyskind) and wonderful music (Alberto Iglesias, who also wrote the music for 2002ís The Dancer Upstairs, which I think is Javier Bardemís best film).

Dunst gives a terrific performance, the best Iíve ever seen out of her, as do Mortenson and Isaac. The interplay among the three is beautiful to behold as things get more and more out of hand.

Unfortunately, they are done in by an ending straight out of the Hollywood archives, which does not live up to the rest of the movie. I was ready to give this a 10, but the ending spoiled that. Amini saw the problem in the book, ďIt was loosely plotted, inconsistent at times, often illogical, but somehow the story and its flawed characters got under my skin and never left.Ē He has tightened up the plot and the story he comes up with is fairly consistent and relatively logical, but I walked out with the same discomfort from which he apparently suffered after reading the book because the repair work he did to the story didnít hold through for the ending.

The ending might not bother most like it did me. Itís not so bad that it should dissuade people from attending. It is so well done throughout thatís itís well worth seeing.