Although there have been several film adaptations of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels, many modern viewers will only know the character through the relatively recent The Talented Mr Ripley. Fans expecting the same grand scale and movie star glamour from the sequel will be disappointed with Ripley's Game. It certainly does not have Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow basking their golden bodies on an Italian beach. However, with Ripley’s Game, director Liliana Cavani sets out to make a very different kind of film. This is an out-and-out thriller, though one with a distinctly European feel.
With the source novel transposed from France to Italy, we find a middle-aged Tom Ripley (with John Malkovich taking over the role from Matt Damon) several decades after the events of the last film. He's now living it up in a palatial villa with a beautiful, young wife (Chiara Caselli). Crime obviously does pay in Ripley’s case.
A former partner-in-crime (Ray Winstone) arrives in town looking for an assassin to kill a rival mob boss in Berlin. On a whim, Ripley suggests his mild-mannered neighbour Jonathan (Dougray Scott), just to see whether he can turn an innocent family man into a brutal killer. Jonathan, terminally ill and feeling he has nothing to lose, agrees to the scheme and what ensues is a murderous spree leaving a trail of bodies across Europe.
Where the film works best is in these murder and chase sequences, which are genuinely suspenseful. The highlight is a stunning set piece involving multiple murder on a high-speed train hurtling through Germany. It's the kind of tense, claustrophobic action which Brian De Palma does really well. And throughout the film, the violence is punctuated with lashings of macabre humour.
Although Malkovich's performance is as good as always, his "charming psychopath" routine seems over-familiar now. The real scene-stealer here is Ray Winstone, who appears to have great fun with his foul-mouthed, thuggish character. His most memorable scene occurs when he loses his temper in spectacular fashion at the gates of Ripley’s estate. No one has gotten this hysterical on a driveway since Sharon Stone threw the mother of all tantrums in Casino.
The actors in Ripley’s Game deserve credit for holding their own against the showy ostentation of Ripley’s mansion. Its overblown set design threatens to overwhelm everything else in the film. The point is made very clear -- Tom Ripley has expensive taste. He would probably get on well with Hannibal Lecter, politely debating how to wash human blood out of an antique Persian rug or which is the best Bach composition to kill to.
By sticking within the genre confines of a crime thriller, the makers of Ripley’s Game show less ambition than the near-epic The Talented Mr Ripley. But as a thriller it does just what it is supposed to -- deliver plenty of nail-biting suspense.
(Released by Fine Line Features and rated "R" for strong violence and language, some sexuality.)