Ripley's Game

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Ripley's Game
"The humour is barbed, like the film."

Tom Ripley is not the man he used to be. Matt Damon, in The Talented Mr R, didn't have a clue, really. He was the guy no one noticed, someone else's friend, perhaps, who learnt by watching the way the idle rich behaved and then copied them, an American in Europe with a sharp eye for the main chance. Although uneducated in the social nuances of the international cocktail set, he picked it up fast and, being from lower down the food chain, was especially observant. He discovered something else, as well. He could kill without remorse. From the shy boy who was only too glad to help, he became ruthless in his ability to cover his tracks.

Now he is played by John Malkovich, with the sophistication of a Renaissance man, grown rich on other people's ignorance. The two Toms are so far apart they could never be mistaken for cousins. The Ripley who plays The Game lives in an Italian villa with a beautiful concert pianist (Chiara Caselli) and knows enough about art to sell fake Rembrandt drawings to connoisseurs. He is still ruthless and he is still a killer, but he's rich now and he likes it.

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Patricia Highsmith was a writer who garrotted the stereotype and could never be second guessed. Ripley may have been her most famous creation, but who was he? Malkovich savours the mystery of the man, appearing to perform on many levels simultaneously, thus confusing those who point pins. The script cuts corners. Instead of long explanatory diatribes on the reason for doing, or being, it spits out witty one-liners that cut the legs off apathy. As a thriller, it doesn't fit the mould. "I'm not afraid of being caught," Ripley says. "I don't believe anyone is watching."

The plot catches you unawares. A character called Reeves (Ray Winstone) is paid off in the first few minutes and told to get lost. Three years later, he's standing in Ripley's kitchen, sweet-talking his cook and behaving as if he owns the place. He wants Tom to kill a Russian Mafia boss in Berlin for $50,000. The idea is beneath contempt. Reeves is persuasive and Ripley suggests an Englishman, Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott), who runs a picture framing business. That's odd, you might think, and you'd be right. Trevanny would have fitted perfectly into a Hampshire market town. What's he doing in an Italian village with his pretty wife (Lena Headey) and curly-haired son? Is he dying of leukaemia, or does he look distracted and sick because he has problems in the bedroom? Reeves turns up the heat and Trevanny, who confesses that he doesn't know one end of a gun from another, agrees. He has his reasons and they are understandable, but how to kill a man? Ripley asked himself the same question when he was talented and looked like that kid from Good Will Hunting; he found a way.

This is the prelude to a tale of multiple murders, some of which are comic in their grotesquery. The strangeness of Ripley's life, with its outward perfection and inner secrets, leaves a mark on the film. It would be easy to find fault in construction because it does not comply to what is expected of a thriller, but that is its charm and Malkovich stage manages the twists, if not the turns, with an sardonic smile and the absolute conviction of a master craftsman. He is so comfortable in Ripley's skin, you feel his pleasure like the coolness of silk sheets on nights when the wind scalds your mind.

Scott's role is devilishly difficult. He must be unheroic and yet brave, gauche and yet practical, ill and yet strong. The relationship between Jonathan and his wife is utterly believable. She struggles under the strain of his disease, compassionate and infuriated, as if cheated out of love, putting on a face to hide the face that bleeds. Scott succeeds admirably, without shunting into a siding where clapped out romantics congregate.

In the end, Ripley's sympathy for the devil sharpens his instinct. "These Balkan types," he tells Jonathan, "take strangling quite personally." The humour is barbed, like the film.

Take care.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2003
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Ripley's Game packshot
John Malkovich plays the enigmatic Tom Ripley in a new tale of multiple murders
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Read more Ripley's Game reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****1/2

Director: Liliana Cavani

Writer: Charles McKeown, Liliana Cavani, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith

Starring: John Malkovich, Dougray Scott, Ray Winstone, Lena Headey, Chiara Caselli, Uwe Mansshardt, Hanns Zischler, Paolo Paoloni, Maurizio Lucà, Evelina Meghnagi, Sam Blitz

Year: 2002

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/UK/Italy

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If you like this, try:

The Talented Mr Ripley