Ripley’s Game

Ripley’s Game (2003)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: John Malkovich, Ray Winstone, Dougray Scott, Lena Headey
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Based on the novel by famed mystery writer Patricia Highsmith and first known to movie audiences in 1999’s "The Talented Mr. Ripley, " 2002’s "Ripley’s Game" brings back the homicidal sociopath for another match of deception and manipulation. Portrayed by Matt Damon, the first film charted the character’s beginnings. Here, John Malkovich reprises the role, giving viewers an older, even more dangerous Ripley.

Now settled in Italy with a steady girlfriend and an opulent villa, Ripley still can’t resist playing with people’s heads. When old associate Reeves (Ray Winstone) comes forward with an assassination request, Ripley maneuvers his neighbor, devoted family man Jonathan Travanny (Dougray Scott), into the plot, which requires an innocent third party to effectively commit the crime. The game becomes afoot when the situation spirals out of control and Ripley finds himself at the wrong end of the intended target’s cross-hairs.

As directed by Liliana Cavani and scripted by Cavani and Charles McKeown, best known for his co-scripting turns on Terry Gilliam’s "Brazil" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," "Ripley’s Game" shares much with another sequel about a gifted killer: Hannibal Lecter. Like the Ridley Scott-directed sequel "Hannibal," "Ripley" depicts a murderous protagonist in middle-age, more discerning in his tastes (and victims) and spending his "retirement" days soaking up the fineries of Italian culture. Malkovich’s Ripley is the embodiment of elegant disassociation; just like his Valmont in "Dangerous Liaisons," he once again plays the charming manipulator. When he jokes "If my watch breaks, I’ll kill everyone on this train," the laugh catches in the throat because we believe him. The casting and performances are engaging, especially Winstone’s menacing, ham-fisted Reeves, Dougray Scott as the tormented Jonathan and Lena Headey as his increasingly suspicious but loving wife. Where the film falls apart is when the filmmakers try to give Ripley too much "sympathy."

The 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer exhibits solid colors and a super detailed picture. What really jumped out, though, were the fleshtones. Alfio Contini’s cinematography mesmerizes when it comes to faces, from Ripley’s conscience-less visage to Travanny’s worried countenance. Really something, considering these faces compete with the details of Berlin’s stone-etched architecture and the Renaissance murals in Ripley’s home. Other reasons for the crisp picture image include a pristine source print and no digital or compression artifacts.

The audio is offered in <$DD,Dolby Digital> and <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 as well as matrixed surround sound. While the film’s sound is mainly dialogue driven, the rear channels get exercise with the sounds of cityscapes, harpsichords and Ennio Morricone’s music score. Both 5.1 tracks provide an expansive sound field, but after a few toggles, I give the nod to the DTS track for greater surround presence and beefier signal, especially needed for Malkovich’s frequent whisper-level musings.

The only extras are a bunch of theatrical trailers. In addition to the original theatrical trailer for "Ripley," there are previews for "Laws of Attraction," "Dinner Rush," (one critic called it a cross between "Big Night" and "The Sopranos"), "About Schmidt," and "Secondhand Lions," all presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and 5.1 audio. The menu lists a "DVD-ROM/Online Features" option, but after trying to access three times, the only DVD-ROM feature I found that worked was a link to the New Line Home Entertainment website.

Aside from a lack of supplements, "Ripley’s Game" is an enjoyable DVD. With a compelling story and an ace technical presentation, watching John Malkovich be Tom Ripley is wicked fun.