An Oscar nominee for “The Wings of the Dove” as well as the writer of “Drive,” screenwriter Hossein Amini began work on his directing debut of “The Two Faces of January,” adapted from Patricia Highsmith's 1964 novel, with help from Anthony Minghella.
Minghella made a splash with another Highsmith film, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” in 1999, but when he passed away in 2008, “The Two Faces of January” went into limbo.
“The film was stuck in some sort of legal situation,” says Amini. “Anthony's widow Carolyn and his son Max were generous and gracious and wanted to carry on. They said not to worry about any the legal or the money, just do what Anthony wanted to do – make your first film.”
Although he likes Minghella's film of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Amini, in making “Two Faces,” was more inspired by an earlier movie adaptation of “Ripley,” Rene Clement's 1960 “Purple Noon.”
“There's something about the messiness of the film that seemed close to Highsmith,” Amini explains. “She doesn't really analyze. They just behave the way that humans do. The characters' behavior kind of lurches. They like this one moment, and they suddenly change and there's something else, and there's no explanation.”
“The Two Faces of January” tells the story of a con man, Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst), visiting Greece. A sinister intruder catches up with them, and the couple teams up with a swindling tour guide (Oscar Isaac) to escape.
A confessed “film noir nut,” Amini was drawn to the characters because they're normal people.
“They're not brilliant, clever psychopaths. They're not the brightest,” he says. “They're just unlucky. They're drunk and they're jealous. Maybe I'm a bit of a softie when it comes to that, but I like villains having moments of tenderness and humanity.”
But upon test screenings of the movie, he found the audience liked the actors' performances, but didn't much like the characters. So he turned to his composer, Alberto Iglesias.
“I remember saying in frustration, 'I don't care if the audience hates him, I want the music to really be in love with him.’” To make his film more “noirish,” Amini moved the date from 1964 to a few years earlier, before clothing got wild and when life still seemed more mundane. He also reveled in the idea of putting the characters' clean white clothes into some “quite grubby places.”
Yet he weighed all his choices against Highsmith’s original work, calling her, “not just a crime writer, [but] a great American writer.”
IF YOU GO
The Two Faces of January
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac
Written and directed by: Hossein Amini
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes