In the beautiful North East Italian countryside, a slightly older* Tom Ripley (John Malkovich) lives the life of the idle rich, his wife Luisa (Chiara Caselli) a talented professional harpsichord player. His villa is beautiful, even if his mind is not. When a past accomplice in crime, the English cockney Reeves (Ray Winstone), calls on Ripley to murder a Russian mafia business competitor in Berlin, Ripley demurs, but soon suggests one of his neighbours, a terminally ill young English picture framer, Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott) – because he is an innocent who would never be suspected. Jonathan’s young family are kept in the dark as the dying man considers his options, which include making a lot of money very quickly, thus securing his wife and son’s future. His choice is no surprise to Ripley, but the ramifications are unpredictable. *Older than he was in Anthony Minghella’s 1998 film, The Talented Mr Ripley, based on another Highsmith novel about Ripley.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In a world increasingly afflicted with selective morality, Ripley’s Game is a timely bombshell, and one of the best adaptations from a novel of recent times (at last, thank goodness and hallelujah!). We are caught on the hook of moral dilemma as Ripley manipulates those around him at whim. He appears to have no conscience left, he seems devoid of sympathy or compassion, yet his love for his wife is true and real – and there’s a strangely empathetic method to his seemingly malevolent madness. He is no cardboard cutout, and his confidence is only a part of his considerable appeal. It’s not charm – it’s much more robust than that. Ripley, like so many great characters of literature, reflects aspects of us all in varying combinations and degrees. At the end, we are in for a psychological twist that is as subtle and ambiguous as it is explosive, throwing into question everything we’ve built up in our head. John Malkovich excels as Ripley, paralysing as a snake, and as fascinating to boot. You can’t take your eyes off him, your mind off him. Dougray Scott gives a career-high performance as the doomed leukemia patient who takes one step at a time into the moral abyss that Ripley’s game leads him to. That it’s a game is Ripley’s notion, and he plays it like a chess master, leaving mere vicious criminals, like the grotesque Reeves and the hoodlums who are his enemies, looking like ponces. Superbly written and directed, Ripley’s Game manages to include significant plot elements as well as important establishment scenes with great economy, crammed as it is with action, emotion and tension. The locations are gorgeous (and fresh), the production design is sensational and the music outstanding; the soundtrack includes snatches of a track from 4AD, one of my favourite Dead Can Dance albums, featuring the sublime voice of Lisa Gerard (who co-wrote it with Brendan Perry.) Stimulating our intellect as well as our adrenaline glands, the film teases out its moral challenges with powerful dark humour, and an absence of judgement that chills us to the core. It puts us firmly in the head of Ripley as well as Jonathan, with no easy way out. This is what elevates the film, making it both instantly rewarding as well as haunting; it’ll squiggle under your skin long after the end credits.
Review by Louise Keller:
A stylishly intelligent thriller with John Malkovich at his enthralling best, Ripley’s Game draws us like a magnet into the unfathomable world of Tom Ripley. Living comfortably within the bounds of his own morality, this is a different person from the one we met in The Talented Mr Ripley. Older, more assured and exceedingly more complex, Ripley is totally in control of his life. Director/writer Liliana Cavani’s deft screenplay from Patricia Highsmith’s novel takes us right to the edge – in every sense of the word. Here is a film that engages us from the very first breathtaking scene and keeps us on the edge of our seats until the satisfying resolution. From cold-blooded killer to urbane gentleman, the contrast is almost too much to absorb. Ripley is a man who enjoys European-style decadence and elegance. He delights in his sumptuous surroundings and toys with his exquisite young wife Luisa, as if she were a lovely plaything. Killing is simply a necessary evil, but when it is required, he has no compunction. Like a patient man fishing, Ripley takes pleasure in reeling in his innocent neighbour Jonathan as a pawn in his game, enticing him slowly but confidently. Our heart is in our mouth as Jonathan boards the train, knowing that he is overwhelmed by a task that is far beyond his capabilities. These are some of the film’s most thrilling scenes and ones in which Ripley and Jonathan become irrevocably linked. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife, and the wry humour that comes at the most unexpected moments, is almost a relief. Everything works wonderfully with Malkovich masterful in his every expression, every movement, every nuance, in his best performance since Dangerous Liaisons. Superbly cast, Dougray Scott’s vulnerable, insecure Jonathan becomes a man with growing self-belief. Lena Headey gives a strong performance as his concerned wife, while Chiara Caselli is captivating as the alluring Luisa. More inspired casting has Ray Winston as the obnoxiously common Reeves, who counters Ripley’s urbanity. The beauty and elegance of the classical Italian villa setting with its manicured, designer gardens makes for a startling contrast to the harshness and ugliness of the violence that takes place there. Similarly, the use of ethereal music accentuates the disparity between beauty and depravity. Ripley’s Game is a ripper of a thriller, guaranteed to catch you, hook, line and sinker.
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RIPLEY'S GAME (MA)
CAST: John Malkovich, Dougray Scott, Ray Winstone, Lena Headey, Chiara Caselli
PRODUCER: Simon Bosanquet, Ileen Maisel, Riccardo Tozzi
DIRECTOR: Liliana Cavani
SCRIPT: Liliana Cavani (novel by Patricia Highsmith)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alfio Contini
EDITOR: Jon Harris
MUSIC: Ennio Morricone
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francesco Frigeri
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 17, 2003