Tom Ripley, the prodigiously gifted sociopath of Patricia Highsmith's novels, has proven to be an extraordinarily resonant and enduring figure in both literature and film, because he dramatizes the dark underside of America's obsession with upward mobility and dramatic reinvention. Ripley wants desperately to be loved and admired, and he's willing to kill as many people and adopt as many new personas as necessary to make that happen.
Highsmith's Ripley books have already formed the basis for three major films (Purple Noon by René Clément in 1960, Wim Wenders' The American Friend in 1977, and Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999). But Ripley's cinematic winning streak comes to an end with Liliana Cavani's Ripley's Game, a handsomely filmed but middling adaptation of the eponymous novel (previously used for The American Friend). What makes Ripley such a fascinating and multidimensional character is his combination of almost childlike emotional neediness and utter amorality, which makes it disappointing that Ripley's Game turns him into an ascot-wearing, ice-cold master criminal with a sexy wife and a giant mansion.
This time out, John Malkovich plays the title role, applying his signature effete menace to a character who views the rest of the world with aristocratic disdain and a chilly glare. Dougray Scott co-stars as a seriously ill framer on a job for a hood (Ray Winstone) who wants a rival businessman killed in exchange for money that will support Scott's family after he dies. Ripley's Game fatally lacks the squirmy, desperate humanity that made Wenders' take on the same material so hauntingly tragic. Like Malkovich's suavely generic international criminal, it's all craft and no soul, with complexity and depth functioning as collateral damage for its slick thriller mechanics.