The film noir genre may well have spawned some of the finest feature films, yet it’s one that is seemingly consigned to a Hollywood of old, being a genre that is rarely touched upon in contemporary cinema. However, debutant Hossein Amini is inclined to buck the trend, as he brings Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Two Faces of January to the big screen.
Oscar Isaac plays Rydal, an opportunistic and somewhat callous tour guide, always on the hunt for a hard bargain. However he softens up when he casts his eye on Colette (Kirsten Dunst), despite the fact she’s on holiday with her husband Chester (Viggo Mortensen). Eventually making their acquaintance, he finds himself caught up in a murder case when Chester kills a man sent to investigate him. In a desperate bid not to get caught, the trio decide to flee the city of Athens.
The Two Faces of January has all the makings of a special film. Not only is it a story spawned from the brilliant mind of Highsmith, whose other work, such as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley have translated so brilliantly to the big screen – but the cast assembled is exciting and promising too. However sadly this film falls short in one simple area: suspense. It’s what makes the film noir genre what it is. If you take classics likes The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man or Double Indemnity, for example, you can barely pay attention as the intensity rises to such epic proportions. Instead, Amini’s endeavour is too emotionally flat, and the characters too cold, making it a real struggle to invest in them. And without that attachment, we don’t care for their safety, thus detracting heavily from the suspenseful nature of the narrative.
On a brighter note, what can’t be faulted is the cinematography and aesthetic of the piece. Amini has used his setting effectively to create a brooding mood, and one that could only ever take place on a warm Summer’s evening in a Mediterranean country. While the rest of the film leaves a lot to be desired, thankfully the story is strong enough to ensure that Highsmith’s original novel may well be added to a fair few Christmas wish-lists.