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Ripley's Game - Special feature

By: Katherine Kaminsky

A SEXUALLY-confused, art-loving serial killer might not sound like the ideal ingredients for a villain you can root for, yet Tom Ripley, the anti-hero created by Patricia Highsmith in book form, is now enjoying his fourth cinema outing, in the charismatic guise of John Malkovich.

Ripley’s Game marks the long-awaited sequel to Anthony Minghella’s Talented Mr Ripley, and finds Malkovich stepping into the shoes vacated by Matt Damon, some 20 years later.

Happily married and living in Northern Italy, Ripley seems content until his psychopathic inclinations are awoken by Dougray Scott’s unfortunate Trevanny, who insults his taste.

Ripley seeks revenge, and, when he discovers Trevanny is dying of leukaemia, decides to play a game with his destiny, uniting with an old acquaintance, Ray Winstone’s Reeves, to get rid of a Russian Mafia.

The two approach Trevanny to become an unlikely assassin after finding out that he is dying of leukaemia, promising him that the contract will help him to provide for his family after his death. But then Trevanny develops a taste for his new lifestyle…

For Malkovich, the role of Ripley had long been an intriguing one.

"I’d always found the books very funny, very clever, and very cinematic, in the way they appealed to troubling aspects of human behaviour," he told a London press conference recently.

"Why do we like someone who does such unconscionable things with such regularity?

"I thought she [Patricia] wrote about that very cleverly, and created a world where, if you suspect that someone has discovered your art scam, and that will keep you from having the kind of leather you want on your walls in your home, clearly it’s a better idea to kill them.

"And how does one create that world, and why do we like it? That’s what appealed to me in that whole series."

Hence, Ripley enjoys the same type of relationship with audiences that the likes of Anthony Hopkins does in the Hannibal Lecter series - as despicable as both characters may ultimately be.

But given that Ripley is now in his fourth incarnation, did Malkovich find it difficult to find a new persona for the character?

"Well, I knew already very well the other films - the Wim Wenders one I’m very fond of, so I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring that," he explained.

"But I never think much about comparisons, because one isn’t doing the same thing, and it’s not the same age or time, as the films are structured differently.

"I went over and over the series of books for things I thought were needed. I remember, in one book, Ripley has to pick up a passport from a German girl and his wife goes with him, and there’s this little tiny thing, when they’re leaving, the wife remarks that the girl is very attractive, which opened up a whole world of how their relationship might be.

"That’s what I would look for more than what somebody else did, because then you’re interpreting an interpretation, and there’s no point in doing that."

Certainly, the critical reaction to Ripley’s Game has been very favourable, despite a troubled shoot, in which rumours abounded that original director, Liliana Cavani, was eventually replaced by Malkovich himself.

When asked about the shoot, however, Malkovich explained that time constraints, forced upon them by the difficulty in securing funding, were what eventually forced the actor to take over behind the camera.

"It was a somewhat chaotic working environment," he said. "But Liliana did not leave because she was upset, she had a contract at La Scala, to direct an opera, and, as the start date was being pushed back further and further while all the financing was being put into place, we knew she would have to leave before the end of the shoot.

"I’d spent at least six or seven hours a day with Liliana, discussing how she wanted the last scenes directed."

The movie therefore marks Malkovich’s second journey behind the lens for cinema - he has directed several theatre productions - and the star has not ruled out further projects in the future, particularly given the success of his equally-acclaimed debut, The Dancer Upstairs.

"But it would have to be a story I would feel qualified to tell," he added. "I’ve always directed, but in the theatre, or fashion, or some way, that’s just easier. The Dancer Upstairs took eight years, and that’s not a complaint, it’s fine, and I enjoyed doing it.

"But it would have to be something I was very dedicated to, in order to spend that kind of time; plus I produce a lot, which is very time consuming."

RIPLEY LATEST: According to a recent report, Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) is about to
direct the next Ripley adaptation, with Barry Pepper as Ripley. Tom Wilkinson is also on board. At the moment it's called Ripley's Art!

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