Ripley’s Game (Liliana Cavani, 2002)

Cool movie. Cavani pours on the surface visual excess to no end, but that’s probably a good thing, as that’s probably how Tom Ripley, whose patronage of the arts is bested only by his ego, sees the world around him: he’s craftier and smarter than everyone around him (at least as he sees things), not afraid to use violence, and any and every opportunity that comes his way isn’t an opportunity for success, but an opportunity to amuse himself. Once you get past all of Malkovich’s Malkovichisms (he’s one of the few actors I can think of whose last name can be used as a verb. You can’t put into words what “Malkoviching” is, but when you see him do it, you just know what it is…), his Ripley is a fascinating and ultimately unreadable character – does he try to pull the plug on his little game of allowing his terminally ill neighbor to become a murderer-for-hire out of sympathy or pity, or simply because it no longer amuses him, or would no longer be to his advantage? Deep down he probably has some kind of twisted admiration for that neighbor, or his own wife, as you can see when he does seem to look at her with a prideful smile as she plays her harpsichord, but then you see him taunt his neighbor with those insect pictures he wants to hang in his house, a day after that neighbor killed a man in the insect house at the zoo, and it’s pretty obvious that an almost child-like sense of humor and need for amusement at the expense of others parallels that slight virtue at best, and completely trumps it at worst. The scenes between the terminally ill Dougray Scott and his predictably worried / spurned wife Lena Headey are bland and unoriginal (although Dougray Scott’s Jonathan’s descent into raving madness in defending his sudden coming-into of wads of money to his disbelieving wife is oddly funny, whether that was intentional or not), as is pretty much any scene without Malkovich, but what’re you gonna do, it speaks to how good Malkovich is, where his as-usual ridiculous flair for the dramatic works because it matches the flair for the dramatic of the character he’s playing. Throw in those great sets and overall look, an effective and different score by Ennio Morricone (along with an effective use of the oft-utilized Host of Seraphim – this is the third film I’ve seen that’s used that piece, along with Baraka and The Mist), a climax that’s like Home Alone / Straw Dogs in a bigger and nicer house, and a very morbid, very violent, and very funny take on the famous train cabin scene from the Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera” (train in this film, boat in the case of Marx Brothers…), and you’ve got a fun movie – an admittedly unoriginal and uninteresting premise and story (this isn’t the first film based on that particular Tom Ripley novel, after all) made very, very interesting by a very, very interesting anti-hero. When you watch Ripley walking through his monstrously large, monstrously empty house at night, as men might be coming to kill him at any moment, and the mournful “Host of Seraphim” plays in the background, you can feel the loneliness and isolation oozing out of this man, but in the movie’s big cynical twist, not even he can recognize his own loneliness and isolation, and in fact, he may actually relish it.

8.5/10

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1 comment so far

  1. Crowley on

    What a great film!, for me, better than first version of the character… and how great is Malkovich!
    Great review


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