Adapted from the third of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books, this is the second high-profile film about pychopathic anti-hero Tom Ripley to emerge in four years – but it’s far from being a sequel. Fans of Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley may be bemused to find John Malkovich in the title role for starters. And devoted Highsmith afficionados will find Ripley living in the Veneto region of Italy in the present day, rather than France in the 1960s.
Having murdered his way to a comfortable life in his earlier years, Tom Ripley has settled into the life of the cultured grandee, with a fine Palladin-style house, filled with beautiful things. But his quiet life is disturbed by a visit from former criminal protege Reeves (Winstone), who seeks his help with a trifling mafia matter in Berlin.
Ever the master of the unexpected, and after overhearing a remark at a party, Ripley selects a chronically ill art framer (Scott) for the dastardly work which involves a train, a garrotting and a great deal of personal risk. But the murder of a Ukranian mob boss proves too complex for the new killer, and Ripley is forced to ride to the rescue – whereafter an unlikely alliance between master and puppet takes shape.
Cavani’s direction, full of pauses to admire the glorious surroundings indoors and out, moves along at a stately pace, but captures Ripley’s contrived personality and amoral ways. The Veneto’s weather leaves a lot to be desired throughout the film – the cloud cover is reminiscent more of Manchester than Mongibello. It gives the dark acts on screen an effectively chilling feel.
Malkovich’s captivating performance, while not radically different from his creepy turns in Portrait Of A Lady or Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is matched by an astonishingly understated portrayal by Dougray Scott, who excels by giving considerable depth to the innocent man turned unlikely murderer. Both men have killed – and the actors and Cavani allow us access to the human fallout from such events, and how they influence the lives of their perpetrators. It is the film’s biggest selling point.
Taken on its own, this film is sumptuous, thoughtful and elegant, though suffers a lack of the sunny-side-up glam of Minghella’s effort. Ripley’s past may get in the way of hardcore fans’ enjoyment of this installment, but taken on its own as a thoughtful interpretation of Highsmith’s work, Cavani’s film nevertheless has much to recommend it.