Monday 15 April 2013

Ripley's Game -- film review

Ripley's Game is a film version of the Patricia Highsmith novel dating back to 2002. Back in 2009, I listened to the audio book version of the novel, and was by no means convinced by the story. This may have been due in part to the cutting-down of the story to a fraction of the original length, but it put me off reading the novel itself, but that may have been a mistake. Because I must say that the film is very good.

I suppose if you wanted to find an actor to play someone with superficial charm but a very sinister side, John Malkovich would be high on your list. And if you wanted to cast a thuggish villain, you could do a lot worse than pick Ray Winstone. As for a charismatic, sensitive yet troubled British man, how about Dougray Scott? All three are splendid in their roles, and Lena Headey is excellent as Scott's wife.

Jonathan, played by Scott, embarrasses Ripley and himself at a social event. Ripley being Ripley, when his chum Reeves wants someone killed, he suggests Jonathan for the job. And, for complex reasons, the essentially decent Jonathan does commit the crime. A big mistake, of course, because he finds he is now in too deep. There need to be more people killed, some in a very gory manner. Jonathan is paid handsomely, but struggles to explain to his wife where the money came from.

Highsmith presents us with a disturbing moral universe - arguably, a universe without many morals. Her world is full of ambiguities, good and evil are often distorted. She's a strange but gifted writer, and one of her special talents is picking out appealing facets of people who commit terrible crimes. I thought this film translated her themes to the screen very well. Tom Ripley gets away with murder, and so (in a good way) does Highsmith.


J F Norris said...

Good adaptation of what I think is the best of the Ripley books. Malkovich is far from my idea of Ripley in terms of looks and physique, but he does a fine job of conveying Ripley's duality.

Bob_in_MA said...

All the movies of her work I've seen are interesting. I've only read a couple of her books, but I think I prefer the movies to novels. She's just way to effective at evoking her negative view of the world. With the movies (especially on a TV) there's a little more distance.

She actually wrote a nice little primer for would-be writers, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction.