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‘The Two Faces of January’: A thriller where the thrills never build

By Randy Cordova/Gannett News Service

With its glamorous cast, exotic settings and sun-drenched vistas, “The Two Faces of January” could be mistaken for the kind of stylish continental thriller that Alfred Hitchcock excelled in.

Note the use of the phrase “could be.”

The movie is based on a 1964 book by Patricia Highsmith, who wrote the novel that inspired “Strangers on a Train” — another Hitchcock connection! But once you get away from the surface comparisons, the differences become obvious.

Rakishly handsome Viggo Mortensen plays Chester, a wealthy American touring Greece in 1962 with Colette (Kirsten Dunst), his young, blonde wife. The two look amazing, wearing summery outfits and hats with great panache.

Things appear blissful for the couple when they meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac from “Inside Llewyn Davis”), a 20-something American making a living as a tour guide. Well, that’s what he says he does; he also swindles gullible American tourists.

It becomes clear that Chester and Colette may not be as picture-perfect as they first appear. The fates of the trio become tightly entwined, as the action moves from Greece to Turkey and finally Istanbul.

First-time director Hossein Amini (he wrote “Drive” and “47 Ronin”) draws excellent work from the cast, who deliver nicely nuanced performances. In particular, Mortensen and Isaac are well-matched, and you’re never quite sure which man is outwitting the other. Rydal is given some father issues to grapple with, so there is an interesting texture that underlines the relationship between the two men.

What Amini doesn’t do so well is ratchet up the tension. The movie is not uninteresting, but a viewer isn’t breathlessly waiting to see how things will wrap up, either. By the third act, you even start to get impatient with the characters. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

At a certain point, it’s akin to reading a mediocre murder mystery. You finish it because you’re too far in to quit, as opposed to actually caring how things wrap up.

[s3r star=2/4]

Magnolia Pictures presents a film written and directed by Hossein Amini, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence, language and smoking). Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.