Patricia Highsmith wrote great thriller novels – great because they are more than thrillers – but Hollywood keeps picking the wrong ones. Strangers on a Train: not her best, though good Hitchcock. The Talented Mr Ripley: not her best, though good Minghella. The Two Faces of January is not even good Hossein Amini.
Who? Amini screenwrote Jude and The Wings of the Dove and now directs his first feature. It captivates for half an hour. Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, conman and wife, stray across drifter-hustler Oscar Inside Llewyn Davis Isaac in what the screen captions Hollywoodishly as “Athens, Greece.” (As opposed to what, an Acropolis-bearing Athens, Georgia?)
There’s a murder. There may be a blackmail plot. The story moves to Crete, where in one endearingly crackpot sequence the trio camp for the night in an unprotected Knossos palace. It’s a tourist site, dear filmmakers! Tickets! Barriers! Officialdom! Anyway, there’s another killing there – distraction therapy for pedants – and we move on, and on . . . By the Istanbul last act the movie has become incurably woolly and one-note-enigmatic. Highsmith’s best, by the way? This Sweet Sickness (briefly and long ago a French art movie, now overdue for A-team Anglo adaptation). And the weird, stunning Edith’s Diary, begging for a cine-genius to do it screen justice.