With thriller-writer Patricia Highsmith – she of the Ripley novels and Strangers On A Train – supplying the source material, you expect larceny, twisty psychological games and violent death, often played out against a European backdrop. And with this, the first directorial outing from screenwriter Hossein Amini (The Wings Of The Dove, Drive) that’s pretty much what you get.
We’re in 1962 Athens. Rydal, a young US expat (Oscar Isaac, building on his ambiguous persona from Inside Llewyn Davis), is shepherding pretty co-eds around the Acropolis when he encounters a stylish American couple, Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst).
Much taken with the pair – but particularly with Colette – Rydal gets drawn into their orbit, only to find they’re not quite what they seem. And soon there’s a dead body in the bathroom. “Truth is, we’re joined at the hip,” Chester tells the disconcerted Rydal as the plot thickens and the fugitive trio head for Crete.
No question, Two Faces looks and sounds great. Marcel Zyskind’s widescreen lensing evokes the limpid Mediterranean magic of Athens, Crete and Istanbul back before the tourist hordes descended, and Alberto Iglesias’s Bernard Herrmann-esque score ratchets up the atmosphere. But what the film fatally lacks is suspense.
We’re never taken inside the heads of the central triangle (recalling Roman Polanski’s feature debut, Knife in the Water) so – for all the cast’s best efforts – we never care too much what happens to them, and Dunst’s role in particular lacks definition. Amini’s film offers elegant pleasures and holds the interest – but it never grips as it should.
Intelligent, stylish adaptation of a Highsmith thriller with a crack cast and superbly photographed period locations. But it misses the essential element of tension.