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Ripley's Game
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

RATING: 6/10
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 The 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.

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