Ripley’s Game

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Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: John Malkovich, Dougray Scott, Ray Winstone, Lena Headey, Chiara Caselli

Director: Liliana Cavani

Franchises are as common in Hollywood as they are on the High Street – it stands to reason; if something works and makes money, keep making it. Trouble is, if those franchises change hands, more often than not the new product is merely a poor imitation. Not that Tom Ripley is a franchise by any means but the target audience for the second Ripley book being adapted had to be those that went to see the first. As an opening gambit that hardly bodes well for a critique of the film but it’s fair to say that a certain amount of cynicism was evident before I even walked into the auditorium. Okay, so John Malkovich is a fine actor, finer – dare I say it – than Matt Damon but Damon did get there first…and that does put preconceptions in your head.

Plot-wise, Ripley (Malkovich) is older, wiser, more sociopathic and living in splendour in rural Italy. As an art dealer – clearly having acquired a certain high level of culture appreciation in the interim years from the first story – it’s evident from the opening scene that he’s more interested in satiating the cravings of his sadistic streak. Accepting an invitation from his terminally ill neighbour, Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott), to a drinks party he overhears Trevanny insulting him. Evidently, hearing someone talk behind your back is enough to exact a vendetta of maniacal proportions and, naturally, Ripley’s method is to use his manipulative cunning on Trevanny to persuade him to assassinate Russian mafia dons that have come on the wrong side of Ripley and his business partner, Reeves (Ray Winstone).

As implausible as that idea might seem, RIPLEY’S GAME is actually quite good. It almost has a feel of being tongue-in-cheek. They’ve not gone for the stylish gloss of the first film, in fact, this one feels a little rough round the edges; music drops in and cuts out over scenes making the edits feel disjointed, the cinematography is basic and Cavani’s adaptation and direction do leave a bit to be desired but the reason it works is because you get the impression everyone didn’t take it too seriously. It may seem weird to appreciate a film that treats a pathological maniac lightly but, in a funny way, you side with Ripley here. I’d even admit that by the final scenes, you’re really gunning for him.

Back to that preconception…I have to admit I dispelled my bias over it being Damon’s role twenty minutes in – let’s face it, if anyone fitted the Ripley role, Malkovich is your man – so much so that I was starting to think that Damon had been miscast. If the other book in the trilogy ever gets made, I’d even go so far as to hope they bring in yet another actor to give the role a go. Just let’s not get too carried away and start to develop Ripley theme restaurants, pillowcases and lunch boxes.

3 out of 6 stars