There is a case to be made that Tom Ripley is cinema’s greatest single character. Unlike say Michael or Vito Corleone, connected with one trilogy, one filmmaker, and a few actors – Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley (she also wrote the novel for Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and the source material for 2015’s Carol) has been played several times, in several countries, from several directors and with actors as wide-ranging as Alain Delon, Dennis Hopper, Matt Damon, and here, in Liliana Cavani’s Ripley’s Game (2002), John Malkovich. Some of the best critics (Ebert, Jeffrey Anderson, https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-ripleys-game-2002, and https://www.combustiblecelluloid.com/2004/ripleys.shtml) seem to focus on the Malkovich’s triumph over the other actors as the reason for touting this one as the best. I think as far as the Tom Ripley performance, at best, that’s debatable. And that’s not because Malkovich is bad, he’s not- he’s superb. However, Delon, Hopper, and Damon are also quite wonderful and each actor is strong as Malkovich in their own right.
Cavani’s achievement on the other hand, isn’t on the level of Clément (Purple Noon– 1960), Wenders (The American Friend- 1977), or Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley- 1996) and I wouldn’t much entertain a debate here. Cavani’s (best known for The Night Porter– 1974) direction, outside of the opening take (above- a great two-minute long take tracking shot of Malkovich and Ray Winstone walking to an art museum) is pragmatic. There’s just less here. There’s a nice shot of Ripley’s home mansion and garden. Berlin and Veneto are captured well- but the aims and style are all modest.
Cavani taps the great Ennio Morricone on the shoulder for the score. This one from Morricone, though strong, doesn’t really fill the air. It is a compliment to the great master that this problem is often the protest I have about his scores (The Thing is one that comes to mind that is similarly, only a few total minutes of music).
Both Purple Noon and The Talented Mr. Ripley are from the same book—this one here (the title used) is the same story as The American Friend. So, sadly—you have to admit that Dougray Scott is no Bruno Ganz.
Winstone is excellent- he’s a sort of Bob Hoskins-like The Long Good Friday cockney gangster- a bulldog. I cracked up watching his character’s lack of cultivation irritate Malkovich’s Ripley. Their scenes together are outstanding.
It is the Malkovich show though. His casting here seems connected (and foreshadowed) by his work in 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons (Fears). His Vicomte de Valmont in that film may still be his finest work. He’s so smarmy here. He bakes a soufflé, wears a beret, and pontificates on art and music. “You’re an arrogant bastard” and “I lack your conscience” with haughty restraint. His little sociopathic “there’s just one less car on the road” speech is chilling.
I get why she does it- but Cavani goes to a flashback voice-over of Winstone’s characters on the train to cheat when she doesn’t need to.
Delon is the best Ripley
Interesting point about Ripley as one of cinema’s greatest characters, I still need to check this one out but I think Purple Noon is a near Masterpiece and loved The Talented Mr. Ripley and American Friend.
Who are some other characters played by multiple actors/actresses?
Obviously there’s James Bond and Sherlock Holmes
@James Trapp – Jesus Christ? Robin Hood? Philip Marlowe? I mean lots of remakes like True Grit with Rooster Cogburn or films like Mad Max.
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