Ripley’s Game is the third of Patricia Highsmith’s five novels about the amoral, bisexual, sadist, serial killer Tom Ripley. It is the fourth Ripley adaptation to reach the screen (there’s also a fifth in the works, Ripley Underground, directed by American John Schultz). The first novel in the series, The Talented Mr Ripley, was adapted twice, first by Ren?l?nt in 1961 as Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) and again in 1999 by Anthony Minghella under its original title. Ripley’s Game was first directed in 1978 as The American Friend by Wim Wenders and starred Dennis Hopper as Ripley.

Patricia Highsmith, who died in 1995, was a multi-award-winning crime novelist who established herself in the genre with her 1950 debut novel, Strangers On A Train, later filmed by Hitchcock. Highsmith was interested in the psychology of guilt and instances of abnormal behaviour that allow people to commit extraordinary transgressions under ordinary circumstances. Highsmith, like her protagonist Ripley, was an American expatriate living in Europe. An intensely private person, she wrote The Price Of Salt, an autobiographical lesbian-themed novel, published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan to avoid being pigeon-holed. Ripley, first introduced in 1955, was her most popular character and the novels always had a homosexual subtext as well as a parody of the upper
middle class for whom murder could be a matter of convenience.

Liliana Cavani is one of Italy’s leading filmmakers and is best known to international audiences for her controversial 1974 film, The Night Porter, a disturbing and unflinching exploration of Nazism that starred Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde. Seventy-year-old Cavani, who most recently has been directing opera, is a self-confessed long-time admirer of Highsmith’s writing with its moral ambiguity, psychological precision and ironic sense of humour and is said to have jumped at the chance to explore these themes.

Ripley’s Game is a very elegant, sophisticated adaptation of the novel. Cavani more than succeeds in presenting a film that is darkly funny, sharp, suspenseful and enthralling. John Malkovich plays to perfection the older, wealthy and married Ripley who now lives in a Palladian villa in the Veneto region of Italy. It is an inspired piece of casting and Malkovich plays a witty, charming, manipulative sociopath with ease. Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) is also well cast as a gay Cockney middleman who owns a nightclub in Berlin. Dougray Scott (Enigma) plays the Englishman who is the target of Ripley’s experiment and the cast is rounded out with Lena Headey who plays his wife (Possession) and Chiara Caselli (My Own Private Idaho) as Ripley’s spouse.

The film is beautifully shot in northern Italy and in Berlin by Alfio Contini, veteran Italian cinematographer and long-time Cavani collaborator. Ripley’s Game is all visual style and plays with light, darkness and beauty to accentuate Ripley’s double nature. Ennio Morricone’s score is distinctive and subtle. Ripley’s Game is an example of an increasingly rare film these days, one that is well directed, scripted and shot, although the combination of psychological character study with suspense and macabre slapstick may not be to everyone’s taste.

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