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The character of Tom Ripley, like that of Jack Ryan, has become a favourite of the modern filmmaker. Wim Wenders, Anthony Minghella and Rene Clement are among the big name directors to translate the intricacies of Ripley’s character to film. And the actors to play Ripley include the likes of Dennis Hopper, Matt Damon and Barry Pepper, who will perpetuate the Ripley fascination by starring in White On White late this year. But it is John Malkovich who takes the reins with Ripley’s Game, helmed by Italian director Liliana Cavani. And boy, does Malkovich shine.

Ripley's Game
Movie
Following on loosely from 2002’s The Talented Mr.Ripley, we now see Tom as much older and wiser, though still very much enigmatic. Now an established, successful art dealer with a beautiful woman by his side, Ripley seems to have headed for the straight and narrow path rather than his destined life of crime. That all changes when his former associate, Reeves, played by Ray Winstone, decides to drop him a line. Reeves tells Ripley his business is in trouble due to some hefty competition, so like all good criminals he wants his rivals knocked off.

As luck would have it Ripley knows the perfect candidate to play the hitman, after being insulted in front of a crowd by neighbour Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott) at a dinner party earlier on. Trevanny is a regular family man with a wife and child, working as a picture framer and generally doing quite well for himself and the others. Which is why he’s the ideal person to carry out the surprise hit on one of Reeves’ rivals. Trevanny is also dying from leukemia so Ripley lets Reeves loose to work his magic, hammering home the fact he can leave his precious family a healthy sum for when he’s not around anymore. This works a treat and Trevanny signs up as an unlikely assassin.

This is definitely Malkovich’s film, and he shines here as a mature yet ruthless Tom Ripley. Easily the best actor to play the character thus far, Malkovich knows precisely how to play someone so calm and calculating on the surface but with a real menacing streak underneath. Scott’s portrayal of Trevanny is pretty much on the mark, though it’s the contrast between his whimpering wreck of a character and Malkovich’s stone-cold exterior that provides the most interesting angle of the story. Their relationship is an intriguing one, so it’s nice to see the pair get a large chunk of screen time purely devoted to seeing how they react to each other throughout the film. Some of the finer moments come from Malkovich’s cool delivery of the most macabre lines and the way Scott reacts to them as the sheltered Trevanny who ends up masquerading as a heartless killer.

There’s a lot to like about this film despite a few flaws which detract from the story overall. Whilst The Talented Mr.Ripley wasn’t all that effective in its character study it did make wonderful use of its surroundings, with the landscape of France captured beautifully with some stunning cinematography. We get largely none of that here save for some early sequences around Ripley’s home town. The suspense is dealt with in a very laid back fashion as the movie progresses at a leisurely pace, so you don’t quite get the full effect of the cold violence portrayed in the picture. That said, Cavani does a great job of really focusing on how things get out of control without making any of it over the top.

Ripley's Game
While all of the Tom Ripley films aren’t going to have you on the edge of your seat, the way Ripley’ s Game combines a character study with an understated dose of suspense has to be admired. Malkovich’s performance should have Barry Pepper quite worried, as I’m certain there won’t be another version of Tom Ripley to match it. The story itself is an interesting one even though the more suspenseful moments are underplayed quite a bit. Definitely worth a look and streets ahead of the last Ripley film to grace our screens, Ripley’s Game should keep you entertained the whole way through.

Video
The 1.85:1 presentation included on the disc gives us nothing spectacular but does the job well. There’s very little in the way of bright colours or picturesque landscapes to really test the sharpness at all, so what there is left to accomplish is done quite well. Aliasing is never a real problem even in the more tricky locations, while the muted colour palette is rendered perfectly without fuss. Grain is kept to a minimum and the relatively young age of the print means that there are no visual defections to be seen at all. All in all this is quite a good looking transfer that will have you firmly focused on the drama unfolding.

Audio
For such a dramatic and talkative film it comes as no surprise that the soundtrack has relatively nothing to do. A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix pushes the sound around the front speakers adequately, with most of the dialogue cleverly positioned in front of you. The rears see some action only through ambient sounds and effects from time to time, with barely any chance to really get things moving to immerse you in the environment. That’s not really the fault of the mix, however, as you won’t find many explosions (save for one moment that gives the speakers a little work to do) or car chases in this flick.

The score by Ennio Morricone does give the rear speakers a chance to shine when there aren’t any effects being pushed to the back. The orchestral mix is quite enjoyable, though there’s no real impact to it like some of the more impressive scores of recent times. Nevertheless, it’s a perfectly suitable score to accompany what happens on screen and the 5.1 soundtrack renders it perfectly.

Ripley's Game
Extras
Oh dear. All we get here is the rather impressive theatrical trailer, but impressive as it may be you can’t help but be disappointed there’s nothing else to see in the extras section. A commentary or deleted scenes would have helped add some real value to the disc, but sadly there’s nothing at all to get excited about here.

Overall
With Malkovich the perfect choice to play an older Tom Ripley, Ripley’s Game ends up being a very enjoyable little suspense flick, even if the suspense is downplayed in favour of showing us two very different characters caught in an extraordinary set of circumstances. The video and audio do the job well but a theatrical trailer as the only extra is disappointing. You’d want to find this one a little cheaper than your average new release to be of value, but the film is definitely worth a look.


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