Twenty-five years after Wenders’ The American Friend, Italian director Liliana Cavani – best known for her unflinching succès de scandale The Night Porter (1974) – embarked on a new film version of Ripley’s Game. Without being a slavish adaptation, it ended up sticking closer to the source novel, removing the unbridled cinephilia of the earlier film to get a more clear-eyed view of Ripley’s world. After the youthful duo of Alain Delon in Plein Soleil and Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley and the iconoclastic wildcard Dennis Hopper in The American Friend, Cavani’s Ripley comes in the mature, cultured form of John Malkovich. As critic Anthony Lane has said: ‘The moment that [Malkovich] appears onscreen you think, Of course: that is Ripley.’
In the film’s opening sequence, we find him in Berlin, about to pull off his latest swindle with the help of a cockney villain named Reeves (Ray Winstone). The pair cut markedly different figures; Reeves sports a leather coat, aviators and a five o’clock shadow while Ripley has the solemn air of a country priest. With the operation completed, they go their separate ways. The film then moves forward three years when we find Ripley living in Italy with his wife Luisa (Chiara Caselli), a famed harpsichordist. Reeves resurfaces, much to Ripley’s annoyance, and asks for his help in a murder plot. Rather than get his own hands dirty, he suggests ex-pat picture framer Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott) who’s suffering from a terminal illness. ‘[The] business with […] Trevanny was merely a game for Tom’ Highsmith writes in the original novel, ‘[…] Tom had started the Trevanny game out of curiosity, and because Trevanny had once sneered at him – and because Tom wanted to see if his own wild shot would find its mark, and make Jonathan Trevanny, who Tom sensed was priggish and self-righteous, uneasy for a time.’
Making superb use of Veneto locations, Cavani’s film also includes a stunning, under-appreciated score by Ennio Morricone that alternates between ethereally beautiful harpshichord melodies and more menacing jazz-inflected trumpet and percussion.