-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
copyright © 2001 - 2004 VideoVista
cast: John Malkovich, Ray Winstone, Dougray Scott, Lena Headey, and Chiara Caselli
director: Liliana Cavani
110 minutes (15) 2003 EV VHS retail
Also available to buy on DVD
reviewed by Tom Matic
This version of Patricia Highsmith's sequel to The Talented Mr Ripley, as cold
and dead-eyed as John Malkovich's Ripley, has very little in common with Anthony Minghella's
adaptation of the first novel. Liliana Cavani abandons the period setting and glowing,
sun-drenched colours used by Minghella, and the heavyweight presence of Ray Winstone adds
to the impression of a routine gangster thriller set in Italy, with all the casual cruelty
and extreme violence that goes with the genre.
This alone distinguishes it from
Talented Mr Ripley, which focuses on the chameleon-like character of its compulsively
mendacious antihero rather than his violent tendencies. The viewer gets the impression that
these arise from his infatuation with Dickie (Jude Law) and perhaps his confused sexuality,
although the possibility that all Ripley needs is the love of a good man to overcome his
inner demons is closed off in The Talented Mr Ripley.
In Ripley's Game on the other hand, given Malkovich's cult status
as the thinking woman's crumpet, his Ripley is unambiguously heterosexual. In the decades
that have elapsed since Talented, he has become an exceptionally ruthless art dealer,
a sort of Renaissance gangster, who dabbles in cuisine and cheekily improvises jazz on the
harpsichord. He is a bon viveur who prides himself on his impeccable discernment, and as
Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott) discovers to his cost, the most certain way to get on
Ripley's bad side is to suggest that he has bad taste.
Malkovich languidly conveys Ripley's psychopathic sang froid with his
trademark feline effortlessness. But Ray Winstone is much more fun to watch as his sidekick
Reeves, although much of the comedy derives from watching Ripley's disdain for Reeves and
his embarrassed irritation at the bull-necked gangster's intrusion into his rarefied
seclusion. Reeves wants Ripley to help him rid himself of some troublesome business rivals,
but Ripley refuses to dirty his hands with the task. Thus Ripley's Game echoes another
Highsmith derived thriller, Hitchcock's classic Strangers On A Train (1951), with its
theme of a virtuous innocent being corrupted into committing murder.
Ripley suggests that the impecunious picture framer Trevanny would be the
perfect man for the job, because he has leukaemia and therefore little to lose. This suits
Ripley perfectly, firstly by getting Reeves off his back, and secondly by enabling himself
to avenge himself on Trevanny for his disparaging remarks about his taste. Surprisingly the
silken-tongued Ripley does not himself take on the task of seducing Trevanny into a life of
crime, but uses Reeves as his proxy. Reeves uses the promise of specialist cancer treatment
as a way of luring Trevanny into a life as a hired hitman.
What stretches credibility however is the idea of the sickly, shambling
picture-framer getting past the first hurdle in this employment. He does, but things get
messier and Ripley eventually finds that if he wants a job done, he has to do it himself.
Apart from the amusing interplay between its two excellent leads, there is little to raise
this thriller above the average. Both Malkovich and Winstone are playing themselves, Malkovich
almost as much as in
Being John Malkovich.
Perhaps the role reversal between Winstone and Malkovich, with the hard man playing the 'soft
cop', and the aesthete carrying out most of the violence, is the most interesting thing about
Ripley's Game, but it isn't made enough of. Malkovich's Ripley is violent from the start,
so the film lacks the psychological study of the mental and social processes that led Matt
Damon's Ripley to murder in Talented. Ripley's Game is mainly a vehicle for
Malkovich, but even Malkovich fans may find themselves growing weary of his monotonous drawl.