Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Affliction (Paul Schrader, 1997)

Of all the scenes that comprise this incredible performance by Nick Nolte, the ones that affected me the most and burrowed the deepest under my skin to give me chills were those between his small-town cop Wade Whitehouse and his young, quasi-estranged daughter. We meet them in the car as he has her for a limited time over his ex-wife, driving to a Halloween school function. As he consistently tries to convince her to go to this school, and later tries harder and harder to ingratiate himself with her, he doesn’t quite become overtly hostile, but nevertheless, something is very wrong with this man and his behavior. He seems far too desperate to get on his daughter’s good side and be a cool dad, or a loving dad, a task that proves hopeless, particularly in a late, disturbing scene in a café in which he snuggles up to her and baby-talks her as if she’s a toddler (before he assaults the proprietor, but that’s a whole other matter of a movie’s worth of plot development…). This poor girl must bear the brunt of this woefully damaged man who’s trying desperately to compensate for his crippling insecurities and emotional scars. Something bad happened to Wade in his past, something that’s now making him scramble, in cringingly exaggerated fashion, to be a good man, or convince himself that he’s a good man, or give off the facade of a good man. He’s in the fight of his life to, if not be someone he’s not, then to not become a figure he knows too well. He’s an ideal addition to Paul Schrader’s long line of insecure, self-loathing anti-protagonists from Travis Bickle to Jake LaMotta to Yukio Mishima to John LeTour to Jesus Christ.

As it turns out, he’s trying to be the father that his father wasn’t. As played by James Coburn in an Oscar-winning role, Wade’s father Glen is a drunk and a brute who gets off on inflicting as much physical and emotional abuse as possible on his wife and children, and you can see how any son would try to emotionally divorce himself from such a monster. Ultimately, however, Wade cannot. It’s just a shame that Schrader relied on clichéd spousal/child abuse-centric flashbacks to introduce us to Glen and his cruelty and the clear reason for Wade’s present-day flaws. Watch Nolte and Coburn act together in this film, watch their pitch-perfect, terrifying chemistry (or whatever you would call the polar opposite of “chemistry”), and you’ll see how those flashbacks are simply not needed to get a full sense of how Glen has ruled over his son for decades and inflicted permanent and cruel psychological harm. A health care professional could have a field day simply watching these two characters interact, in scenes that are as subtle and complex as those flashbacks are unoriginal and over-the-top. For better or worse (much worse…), Glen is the most important figure in Wade’s life – not his incredibly patient girlfriend Margie (Sissy Spacek), not his quiet and measured brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe). Wade will try to separate himself from his tyrannical father, sure, whether through his daughter or through investigating the suspicious accidental hunting death that rocks his quiet town. As the details of this case envelop the plot of the film overall, the speculations over the “accident” and the possible motives of possible murders concerning Real Estate and what-not, the movie started to lose me, as Wade gets lost in the case. I suppose this is the point, that Wade so fully immerses himself in this one maybe-crime to dull decades of emotional pain, to dull the Glen inside him, to feel like a semi-important, semi-useful man rather than the mostly-useless man-child his father has made of him, that the details of the case become so complex and nonsensical and out of control as Wade becomes more obsessed, but I dunno, a little too much focus on this formulaic mystery and not enough on how it affects Wade.

Of course, we eventually learn that the mystery isn’t so formulaic after all, via Rolfe’s narration (an unexpectedly weak moment in the narration, by the way, explaining everything like in that intelligence-insulting final scene in “Psycho”, when in fact the true nature of the death, and by extension Wade’s mindset, are rather obvious long before the story’s tragic conclusion) – narration that was excellent, as Rolfe’s detached, monotone voice contains the slightest hint of distaste and he acts as the audience’s stand-in, judging the sad players of this tale with both pity and scorn. I actually wish it was used more than it was. The differences between the two brothers, raised by the same monster, are downright alarming. Rolfe somehow found the ability to get the fuck out of dodge, while Wade, try as he might, cannot (at least until an infected tooth and a can of gasoline have their say) escape this vortex of nature and nurture, cannot draw himself away from this dance with the monster who begat him.

The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, 1944)

I’m really starting to dig the meek, outwardly-sheepish Edward G. Robinson of “Scarlet Street” and “The Woman in the Window” and “The Whole Town’s Talking” over the confident and bombastic Robinson of of “Double Indemnity,” “Key Largo,” and, well, “The Whole Town’s Talking” (even if his performance in “Double Indemnity” remains one of my all-time favorite performances), because while the ruthlessness of his Johnny Rocco in a film like “Key Largo” is as plain as day with no room for deeper interpretation, that sinister side is much more subtle and insidious in his more mellow roles; it’s a side that even his own character may not be aware is in him until he’s covering up a crime with no opportunity to turn back. It’s almost like he’s two different actors, if not for that obscure, dark instinct inherent in his characters. Here, that instinct is initially invisible as his Professor Richard Wanley enjoys teaching, sees off his loving, happy family as they head off on a vacation, and enjoys an evening with friends as they discuss the painting of the eponymous woman in the window next door to their little men’s club. It’s when that woman manifests herself in the form of Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) while he admires her portrait that his world comes crashing down, as an initially innocent rendezvous in her apartment to admire her other portraits turns into a death by self-defense. In the moments that follow, Robinson is fascinating to watch, as Richard almost immediately shrugs off his first inclination to call the police and instead methodically works out, out loud, how to dispose of the body and evidence. It’s as if this previously-infallible academic was born for a forbidden moment like this, had the entire plan swimming around in the deepest recesses of his head for years and decades, and he’s just realizing it as it happens, remaining calm, collected and professional as he tells Alice what to do and when to do it – he might as well be teaching one of his classes, doing his job without a second thought. And yet, a sense of excitement, of having fun, of arousal, is barely concealed by that matter-of-factness; as he gives both himself and Alice explicit instructions and she struggles to control her nervous hysteria and then becomes as calm as he is, this might as well be their version of sex, as if committing this crime is his unique version of, and only way of justifying, being unfaithful with that Norman Rockwell-esque wife of his. It’s an interesting commentary on what must have been the people of that time’s natural mistrust towards authority, that any intrusion on a previously-unblemished lifestyle had to be dealt with personally lest you inevitable get blamed. But in the here and now, it raises very interesting questions about Richard; if he can so smoothly transition from soft-spoken, girl-shy professor into self-assured death cover-upper, what else is lurking in that id of his?

Unfortunately, at least until the very end, that question isn’t explored all that deeply. Richard may have a yen for covering up a (justifiable) death, but that yen certainly doesn’t translate to skill, as he and Alice leave behind a trail of evidence and witnesses as long as eternity. Granted, that’s about what you’d expect for first-time offenders such as these two, but that’s where this interesting character study collapses, as Richard is generally out of the picture and Alice must deal with a blackmailing snake who witnessed the crime. It’s standard, even boring, noir shadiness and backstabbing, and I quickly lost interest and was eager for a resolution, disappointed that a reflection on a macabre shift in a character’s psyche became standard, forgettable pulp noir. At least it led to a downright astonishing final shot in which the blaring sound of a ringing telephone gradually mutes and the camera pulls into a glass: an abrupt punctuation mark of irony as this sordid saga that never needed to happen reaches its (extremely convenient and tidy…) conclusion.

Except it wasn’t the final shot, as an additional Hays Code-mandated five minutes nearly ruins even the best parts of this film. At the very least, it off-handedly reminded me of “Mulholland Dr.,” of all films, but otherwise it’s unforgivable (other than perhaps adding a shred of analysis to Richard’s psyche, but that’s really stretching it given the jarring change of tone from the 100+ minutes that came before). Just pretend that the pull-out from the glass and all that comes after it never happens, and the pull-in will, as it should, seal Richard into his self-made fate of guilt-ridden eternity.

Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)

This was the first film I’d watched after I finished reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, so naturally it unfairly became that movie in which I’d inevitably look for all of Campbell’s factors of shared myth.  Sure enough, they’re there – the mythological hero (Ree, setting out from her common-day home (her run-down home and destitute, but good-hearted, younger siblings) being called or lured into an adventure (the need to find her bail-skipping father lest her family lose their home) and crossing a threshold into the wild and frightening unknown (the secret world of meth cookers), often guided by a helper or mentor (her uncle, the rough and often mean but streetwise (or meth-infested hell-wise) Teardrop), facing off against gate-guarding monsters / ogres (the terrifying old man and his (inbred?) group of hillbilly meth heads, Garret Dillahunt’s slackjawed and useless sheriff), and finally the gaining of a boon, in this case the atonement with the father (quite literally in this case, as Ree’s whole purpose is to atone with Jessup, whether he’s living or dead), which physical boon and the enlightened knowledge that comes with it can be used to restore the non-mythical ordinary world from whence Ree commenced her journey (again, her threatened home).  If I misread either this film or Campbell’s thesis in general, sue me, but regardless, the film certainly has a mythic journey quality, which while adding a level of excitement to an otherwise impossibly depressing setting, perhaps was the very reason why it didn’t click with me as much as it could have.  It just seemed like the lines between good and evil were too delineated, too apparent (with the exception of Teardrop, played wonderfully as an outwardly stoic yet undeniably conflicted man by John Hawkes) – Ree is the hero you can’t not cheer for (how she grows to be such a responsible and morally virtuous young woman in that living environment is beyond me, which may contribute to my problem in and of itself), while the meth heads, obsessed with mutual silence and weird semi-familial bonds, she must wrestle information from, both literally and figuratively, are the evil monsters she the hero must do battle with who you couldn’t find an admirable quality in with an electron microscope.  Despite Ree being an incredibly admirable and determined protagonist (Jennifer Lawrence displays a maturity much, much beyond her years in her performance), intelligent and headstrong, perhaps to a fault with how it often gets her into incredible danger, I would’ve liked to see more people and less archetypes overall.  Nevertheless, the cinematography and muted color palette of this wasteland are INCREDIBLE, and a wasteland it definitely is, like what you’d imagine the Ozarks would look like after Skynet used the world’s nuclear arsenal to destroy the world.  But no, this is the present day, and if this is really what this significant portion of America is like, with long-rusted over cars strewing the countryside and its inhabitants living by this extreme code of silence and territoriality, I have to get my head out of Joseph Campbell’s myths and face reality.

8/10

Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)

No wonder X wants to escape this torturous present and focus on his past affair with A.  Or maybe it’s a fantasy of an affair with A.  Or maybe the present we’re seeing is fantasy.  Damned if I know.  Hell, this isn’t a luxurious vacation place of a hotel so much as Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.  As the creepy organ music blares and the rich snobs stiffly trudge along like Molly Shannon in that Seinfeld episode, it’s all like a funeral procession for androids.  The dialogue irritated me, even as X intriguingly describes this supposed past affair that A has no memory of; but then again, the formal, flowery words are perhaps the most robotic aspect of all, which may serve to further the dehumanizing atmosphere of this place.  Amongst the statue-like robotic rich people standing still in that garden or slowly trudging through those hallways towards nowhere, one image that really stuck with me was everyone watching a concert, a small group of string players; we watch it too, but we don’t hear it.  As we watch the bows eagerly and furiously moving back and forth on the violins and cellos, we don’t hear the music those instruments give birth to; we hear the same funeralistic organ music that’s pervaded this hotel and this film from the opening moments.  Under the visual facade of decadence and nobility, these so-called people aren’t living at all, they’re not-so-living proof of Macbeth’s soliloquy, of life being “but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more.  It is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing” (had to do it after my shitty Macbeth write-up).  I didn’t give a shit about A’s supposed husband or lover or controller or whatever he is M, other than the really cool card game he beats everyone at, or about the supposed affair between X and A, or the semi-poetic language that pervades it all.  Hell, this could’ve been a silent film for all I care, the atmosphere alone is what stuck with me, one that for the sake of humanity I hope is just one part of X’s grand and elaborate fantasy.

7/10

The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988)

Even though I knew all about this film’s famous ending well, well ahead of time, the 100 or so minute lead-up to it was no less powerful and engaging. The bliss between the couple Rex and Saskia is so seemingly flawless and imperturbable that you think it HAS to end in tragedy, which of course it does, but that doesn’t make it any less believable, as their chemistry is high, making the sense of panic as Saskia goes missing in a crowded rest stop and Rex becomes more and more worried that much more palpable and tense. As the film soon cuts to three years later and Rex is no less obsessed not with finding Saskia, but simply what happened to Saskia, this would have been a decent-enough thriller examining one man’s obsession with finding the truth behind a tragedy…but then it defies all expectations of a traditional thriller. Soon we meet the outwardly charming and affable chemistry teacher Raymond – the man who’s responsible for Saskia’s disappearance, and no, that isn’t a spoiler – and suddenly this thriller is anything but a whodunnit. Raymond’s story is even more engaging than Rex’s, as he never delves into full-on eats-his-own-feces madness, but the vague signs of sociopathy are clearly there, and his subtle weirdness absolutely gets under your skin, from his quiet obsession with his resting heartrate to his just-as-obsessive fixation on getting his kidnapping procedure just right, to the point that he does a test-run on his unknowing daughter. “The Vanishing’s” form of comic relief, depicting Raymond’s increasingly humorous, failed attempts at kidnappings, is both morbid and bold. And the disjointed chronological structure, going from the time of the kidnapping to three years later to Raymond’s preparations well before the deed to Raymond’s childhood at drops of a pin, leave little doubt as to who the perpetrator is, but keeps you on your toes and force you to pay attention (even if a late flashback shows just how poor Saskia’s judgment is, to the point where I was taken out of the otherwise natural unfurling of events). Finally, when the inevitable Rex-Raymond showdown occurs, it’s far from the thriller-esque taking-revenge showdown we’ve been programmed to expect. Despite a good amount of philosophical, wordy mumbo-jumbo out of Raymond’s mouth that you’d unfortunately expect from a typically deranged villain, this little game between the two men show that Raymond, the sociopathically fascinated ringmaster, and Rex, the wronged rat in the maze, aren’t so far apart in their obsessions. Two sides of the coin of derangement, the only difference being that one of them gets more of our sympathy – and the gap isn’t as wide as you’d think.

8.5/10

Three Colors: White (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)

The plot – namely Karol’s rise from the gutter to prominence seemingly at the snap of a finger and his revenge (a nice and refreshing surprise of a plot twist, I must admit) going down without a hitch – is completely and utterly implausible and ridiculous, but somehow Kieslowski makes it work by doing what I guess you could call deadpan directing. Even though Karol gets shit on by a bird, is sexually humiliated on the phone by his ex-wife, is smuggled into Poland in a suitcase and gets kidnapped by mobsters while still in said suitcase, and wears a suit and slicks his hair back Pat Riley style to try to act all suave and sophisticated when he comes into money, Kieslowski never plays it up for straight-up laughs. I wouldn’t even call it a dark comedy per se, but just a series of unfortunate events for an impotent, suddenly-homeless hairdresser whose completely implausible adventures are presented about as realistically as you could hope for, with even a hint of moving pathos when it comes to his relationship with a well-dressed, well-spoken, suicidal man who takes him under his wing (there was just something truly special about Janusz Gajos’s performance as Karol’s benefactor Milolaj that I can’t quite put my finger on – probably has something to do with how his noble, almost fatherly deadpan style fits with Karol’s (Zbigniew Zamachowski) almost effeminate, but endearing and sympathetic patheticness, like a glove). Morbidly funny, deeply ironic and cynical, and admittedly unpredictable, “White” was a nice change of pace from the unbearably heavy likes of “Blue” and “The Double Life of Veronique” (both of which were very good films in their own right, and probably ‘better’ than this film, but even with the same director at the helm, it’s like comparing apples and oranges that came from the same fruit basket) – refreshingly light fare, this was, or at least as close to ‘light’ as you can get when it comes to Kieslowski.

8/10

Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)

It’s crap. Which is a shame, because it definitely has the feel of being one of Hitchcock’s more personal films, simply because it oozes his well-publicized misgivings towards women, particularly a kind of deep-seeded desire or need to downright control women and put them in his back pocket, just by how vulnerable and susceptible to her psychoses Marnie is. So with all that, there’re definitely some interesting ideas here (and an interesting performance by Sean Connery, as a character who you want to like by how obviously intelligent he is, but can’t bring yourself to do so by how obviously sleazy he is by basically forcing Marnie to marry him and seeing her as his own personal science experiment or something – perhaps he’s a stand-in for Hitchcock himself), but that all becomes lost in a mess of boring backstory, too many visual cues (the flashes of red meant to hearken to Marnie’s psychoses and repressed memories are particularly offensive as an overly-easy storytelling method), an unacceptably and irritatingly bombastic score by Herrmann, and a shrill-as-fuck Tippi Hedren, particularly when she goes into wide-eyed Southern Belle hypnosis mode. I think this would’ve been a lot better if there had been no easy explanation for Marnie’s klepto/man-fearing behavior (as in no color red and no ‘she does this because THAT happened, and she does that because THIS happened’ revelatory finale) and we were simply left to speculate what the hell happened to this girl to make her so painfully vulnerable as an adult, or more specifically, a girl in an adult’s body. Rather than having Hitchcock’s directorial stamp, “Marnie” has Hitchcock’s personal, psychological stamp, making it a kind of “Vertigo”-lite. But with all the egregious directorial and storytelling shortcuts, it’s “Vertigo”-REALLYlite.

5.5/10

The Man Who Laughs (Paul Leni, 1928)

Much of it was parlor politics, rightful heir, inheritance bullshit I couldn’t be bothered to care about, but my god Conrad Veidt was amazing. Sure his performance is aided by a prosthetic, much like Lon Chaney’s performance in The Penalty, but even then, you consider the way he had to emote solely with his eyes as his mouth was stuck in that haunting uber-smile, and he passed with flying colors. This film is awash with swashbuckling melodrama, especially towards the end when Homo the dog comes to the rescue, but there’s something awfully moving and relatable about the plight that Veidt’s Gwynplaine has been put in. Granted, the job market for men with severe facial deformities probably wasn’t very expansive in the 17th century, so performing as a sideshow attraction was the only way to go, and the show proprietor Ursus, though pretty much exploiting the poor man is kind and like a father to both Gwynplaine and his beloved, the blind Dea, and the common folk laugh at Gwynplaine but almost in a loving, entertained sort of way, but it’s still sad that a very real romance between the smiling freak and the blind girl can only be seen through the prism of a comical side show. The way Veidt and Mary Philbin share a tender moment, only to be interrupted by laughter from the unknowing crowd, and how Veidt crudely uses his hands to try to cover his ever-smiling mouth while his eyes convey more sadness than I may have ever seen before in a film performance, is just as, if not even more melodramatic yet unfathomably moving than the way Lillian Gish uses her fingers to force a smile on to her despaired face in Broken Blossoms. There’s also plenty of weird stuff going on, with the Duchess forced to marry Gwynplaine to retain her fortune – upset with the prospect of being made to look a fool, but also clearly intrigued and even sexually titillated by the deformed man in a disturbing scene that must have been very edgy and questionable in 1928. That scene, and the just as bizarre scene where Gwynplaine, decked out in regal, lordly attire, is introduced to the royal court, are the ones in which this film transcends the quasi-horror, common melodrama to come before and afterwards in the story, and the way Conrad Veidt’s eyes express unfathomable embarrassment, fear, and despair behind that eternal smile make this performance, and this film, into something special.

8.5/10

The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)

It’s so much more than, say, a Children of the Corn for intellectuals, because frankly you’re never quite sure the kids really did do all the fucked up stuff, despite how creepy they come off (especially the pastor’s older daughter, the one who does the thing to the bird and clearly has mental issues of some kind yet makes it a point to be respectful and polite towards grown-ups and strangers – one of the creepiest children I’ve ever seen in a movie). In fact, it feels like finding out “whodunnit” isn’t the point in the least – someone set a wire that tripped the doctor, someone beat up the retarded kid, someone set the baron’s barn on fire, someone was likely responsible for the “accident” that killed the woman at the mill. Is it the same person? Different people working in conjunction, or for completely different reason? Honestly, who cares? The point is that a wire between two trees that tripped a doctor on a horse sets off a chain reaction of people becoming suspicious of neighbors they’ve known for generations, of sexual and physical abuse, of an always-caring and dutiful mother and her son disappearing under mysterious and distressing circumstances.  Even the teacher (and narrator’s) courtship of the shy nanny for the baron, the nicest and most innocent subplot in the film, is tinged with unease in this town slowly and subtly going to hell.

The town’s structure is remarkably simple – the baron and his family are in charge in their big, fancy house, and all the people in town – the pastor, the doctor, the steward, the farmers – all know their purpose and serve it, and the way so much of the misgivings and hatred that develop over the course of the film seem to be aimed at the baron – the fire, the appalling mistreatment of his spoiled young son, the ruining of his crops, it’d be easy to say that Haneke is making an anti-authoritarianism statement, that the ruination of this tiny pre-World War I farm town is a microcosm of the coming storm of Nazism, that a seemingly stable society in which one man or family is in charge and everyone else does a different task towards a common goal of essentially serving that man, is destined to fail when the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, or a wire tripping a doctor’s horse, begins a chain reaction of misgivings and the slow rotting of that society.  And yet, “The White Ribbon” feels so much more apolitical than that simple explanation.  In a more common genre picture, the town likely would’ve devolved into all-out chaos and violence, but not here.  It’s structured almost like an Altman film, as we get to know many different people and families in the village, each getting enough screentime for us to learn about them, and the secrets that begin to come out.  The doctor is initially the victim of a tripwire and thus garners our sympathy, but soon is revealed to be a cruel monster towards his mistress and possibly sexually abusive towards his young daughter.  The pastor is seemingly cruel to his children, but in an odd kind of way seems to truly believe that his embarrassing them by making them wear a white ribbon and otherwise treating them like inferior soldiers in a platoon, is in their best interest, so his motivations and true nature are also impossible to discern.  And we see it all like the teacher narrates it, as objective observers, for the black-and-white cinematography and technical qualities of the film are that good, the camera often gliding through a scene like how our eyes would look back and forth at its players (the occasional stagnant shot of, say, a character leaving and entering a room so that we stay outside that room, or some other non-moving camera shot, will draw too much attention to itself and be to the film’s detriment, but generally this is rare), making the proceedings feel that much more natural, that despite how little sense the bizarre events make, how the clues just don’t add up, it really feels like the fate of this town couldn’t go down any other way.  The moral and intellectual destruction of this town happens almost completely behind the scenes, as we see only the results of the violent acts, never the acts themselves, and unlike, say, von Trier’s “Dogville,” the ruination of the town isn’t physical, but emotional; not involving mass death and the smoldering ruins of buildings, but the introduction of suspicions and mistrust that will only increase over time, and for that reason it’s much more insidious.  I can’t be entirely sure what Haneke’s trying to say about human nature, but if a tripwire can be the catalyst for such an outwardly organized and religiously-based town abandoning the basic tenet of Love-Thy-Neighbor, essentially becoming a ticking time bomb of misgivings that no Sunday church service will cure, no matter how innocuous and ‘back to normal’ that service seems, it can’t be good.

8.5/10

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