The Two Faces of January

Respect for audience intelligence goes a long way in The Two Faces of January, but not quite far enough. A thriller so tasteful it barely thrills, screenwriter Hossein Amini’s directing debut serves mostly just to forecast the extinction of movies adapted from Patricia Highsmith novels. If Strangers on a Train was another century’s classic, and The Talented Mr. Ripley was already seeming a little too old-fashioned in 1999, this film’s best destiny might have been met last spring when it opened the San Francisco International Film Festival, ostensibly to appease an aging and unadventurous demographic. Look, it’s fine, and quite stylish, with Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac as an attractive triangle of Americans abroad in southern Europe in the early 1960s, conning and colluding and meting out mythological consequences among the ancient Greek ruins. Never losing his cool in the intense Aegean sun, Amini makes a point of resisting hysteria, and that resistance will have to serve as the movie’s main supply of tension. In this lush, linen-suited world, even sudden deaths can’t seem to make matters seem especially urgent. It’s the familiar Highsmith stuff of swindlers with fragile egos and slippery identities, but it’s just not quite tasty enough. Skip it and rent Ripley’s Game, from 2002, which actually took some risks and made great use of John Malkovich, but went virtually unseen … until now?