Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ripley's Game (2002)

Ripley's Game was, in summary, a disappointment. It started out quite well, with John Malkovich snarking his way through a lovely art-forgery heist. And then, just about when Ripley becomes a homicidal fiend (a strange look on Malkovich, to be sure), things sort of go to hell.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare this film to the earlier and bigger-budgeted "The Talented Mr. Ripley", but such a comparison is not only natural but reasonable. I came into the film trusting Malkovich to pull out a performance every bit as good as Matt Damon, an actor I had only really enjoyed in his Ripley incarnation. This trust was justified (though no actor with Ripley's skill at mimicry and reinvention has yet played the role). What was not was that I'd get a film of equal complexity and style. I understand that resources were more scarce here, and that is not the problem. The problem is of plot and character identification. There were too many contrived conveniences without any of the depth or character-driven tension of the former film. The characters, other than Ripley, are flat and poorly acted, and even Ripley does little but react to the rather mundane (for the genre) situation he finds himself in. If Ripley is still alive at Malkovich's age, it is because he doesn't let things like this happen to him. The plot does not hinge on a clever scheme, or a mistake born of hubris, or anything connected to Ripley's interesting and complex psychological makeup. It involves hit men.

There were some wonderful touches here, and as an action romp its adequate. I haven't read the book this is presumably based on, and perhaps the problem is in the source material. But "The Talented Mr. Ripley" gave us a portrait of a conflicted, confused con man whose pathology stemmed from his own identify issues and self-esteem. "Ripley's Game" could have been an equally complex portrait of the same man after that conflict has been eroded by time and hard living, and I have a feeling this was attempted in Ripley's relationship with the hapless innocent he spins into his web. But it falls short, as does the film, from the layered film it could have been to mere suspense-drama. It is telling that my favorite scene was one in which Ripley overhears his neighbor dismiss him as having too much money and too little taste and merely blinks a few times before entering into the fray. The film would have been better served by exploring both this accusation and Ripley's cold reaction.

But then we might not have gotten to watch Malkovich kill pretty much everyone on a train.

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