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March 14, 2005

Review: Ripley's Game

Ripley's Game

I watched Ripley's Game a little over a week ago; I was piqued in interest by Roger Ebert's answer to a Movie Answer man question about a year ago.

Now, I've only read one of the Ripley books, the first -- and I thoroughly loved it. I also could see a lot in the portrayal by John Malkovich -- though Matt Damon's rather featureless approach to the role seemed much better suited to the actual character when he played opposite Jude Law and Gwynneth Paltrow a few years back¹. While the other film featured a delicate counterpoint of the sun-washed life of Ripley's victim and the dreary gray life of Ripley himself, this film offers no such interesting contrasts, visually speaking. Malkovich plays the character in an understated way -- this is appropriate -- but you don't feel the seething otherness which seeks out the light as I did with Damon's portrayal.

The film gets off to a very good start, however. A secretly dying man who insults Ripley (in an well-filmed and awkward scene in the man's home) is set up by Ripley to become a murderer for hire. An extreme scenario, to be sure, but not entirely unbelievable here, knowing what we know about the perversions of Ripley's character, the way he can be slighted by a word and wreak his vengeance. Ripley manipulates him well, plays off on his fears for what he leaves behind for his family, and all behind intermediaries, only to show up at the scene of a murder. This introductory first half really captures the soul of the film, and I was really excited for the second half.

The last half, however, doesn't fare nearly so well. It becomes a sort of action pic, though still a bit understated. Ripley and the man, now somewhat friendly, perhaps due to an understanding each now has of the other, prepare to fend off an attack from Russian mobsters. It is itself a bizarre counterpoint to the earlier insinuations and manipulations of Ripley's character -- and even if it's true to the original novel², it jars here, and grates on the nerves. Why the sudden testosterone? Is it there just to drive us to the simple finale? If so, it didn't work for me. I was puzzled -- I wanted more of the first half of the movie, not this guileless simple plot.

The first half of the film left me expecting a lot more from the second half -- and the second half failed to deliver. I can appreciate the structure of the film, but it was hard to be enthralled by it. I almost wished the film had simply ended shortly after Ripley appeared on the train -- just before he told his "victim" why he had done what he had. With Ripley, the mystery and otherness is always better. Keeping us guessing is what keeps him interesting.

**½ (out of four)

¹In fact, if you want to see a better film with both of them than Sky Captain, this is it.
²I've no idea; I've always wanted to read the others but haven't yet got round to it.

Posted by Brett Douville at March 14, 2005 06:47 PM