Today’s movie: Ripley’s Game

Some movies take a novel and make something completely unrelated from it, save perhaps a few character names and a basic idea, while others slavishly attend to the author’s word as stone tablets; either way the movie may be good or bad. Yet some movies stay quite faithful to the author’s work while creating an original and authentic work, and this is what writer/director Liliana Cavani has done with Ripley’s Game (official site).

Released theatrically in Europe to some reasonable box office success, the film could not secure a distribution deal here in The States and went straight to cable where it premiered last night on the Independent Film Channel (next showing doesn’t appear to be until Sep. 20!). And yes, this is the same Ripley character that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Patricia Highsmith wrote five Ripley novels with the Damon feature giving us the ‘origin story’ more or less while the others show him 15 or more years later. Recall that Tom Ripley isn’t even Tom Ripley but another person who murdered the real person of that name and stole his identity.

So it’s not unreasonable for Tom Ripley to be played in Ripley’s Game by John Malkovich; this version of Tom is much older, settled in his skin as one who simply does not have a conscious and does not miss it. While I do appreciate Damon as an actor (Bourne Identity and Italian Job were top of my list the last two years), he has yet to learn the subtle and casual acting skills which Malkovich was born with.

In this outing, Ripley is matched with ‘innocent wanker’ Jonathan Trevanny (played by Dougray Scott) and ruthless crime lord Reeves (Ray Winstone of Love, Honour & Obey and Sexy Beast). Ripley and Reeves have earned together in the past, established by the opening act where the partner on the sale of some forged art, while Trevanny runs a framing shop in the little village where Ripley hides away to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But Trevanny is dying of leukemia and Reeves needs someone unknown to get close to a rival and murder him–the viewer should understand that though the film is set in the present, the novel was written in the post-WWII, pre-Free Love period and it reflects that sensibility.

Ripley, somewhat maliciously, matches Reeves and Trevanny and Trevanny heads off to Munich to do the contracted deed. He takes his pay, thinking he’s gotten a little stash to leave behind when the disease takes, but of course life in a mystery story isn’t so easy. Reeves shows up and tells him that there’s a second job, like it or not, this one not as simple. Fortunately Ripley shows up to help out with the assignment but then the baddies come after the three of them, having seen through Reeves’ attempt at misdirection.

Scott is almost too hard and pretty to be believable in his part of the innocent but with a little makeup and determination, does well. Winstone has zero problems with the Reeves character, just another in the long line of gangsters he’s played; perhaps he even was a bit of one before falling into acting? Lena Headey plays Scott’s wife, reasonable job though only a small piece of meat, and Italian actress Chiara Caselli is Louisa Harari, Tom’s concert harpsichordist wife.

Cavani has done a very interesting job with Ripley’s Game and I’m disappointed that the movie isn’t getting a bigger play. Many people who might otherwise enjoy it will miss out but perhaps in the near future it will show up on DVD or a major cable channel. She moved the locale of Ripley’s home from rural France to rural Italy, a choice that only enhanced the movie, and made smart choices in the simplification/editing that must take place in tranforming a several hundred page into a two hour movie.

Definitely recommended if you get IFC.