Ripley's Game (film)

Ripley's Game is a 2002 thriller film directed by Liliana Cavani. It is adapted from the 1974 novel of the same name, the third in Patricia Highsmith's "Ripliad", a series of books chronicling the murderous adventures of infamous psychopath and anti-hero Tom Ripley. John Malkovich stars as Ripley, opposite Dougray Scott and Ray Winstone. Highsmith's novel was previously adapted in 1977 as The American Friend by director Wim Wenders, starring Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz.

Ripley's Game
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLiliana Cavani
Produced bySimon Bosanquet
Ricardo Tozzi
Ileen Maisel
Screenplay byCharles McKeown
Liliana Cavani
Based onRipley's Game
by Patricia Highsmith
StarringJohn Malkovich
Dougray Scott
Ray Winstone
Lena Headey
Music byEnnio Morricone
CinematographyAlfio Contini
Edited byJon Harris
Distributed by01 Distribuzione (Italy)
Entertainment Film Distributors (UK)
Fine Line Features (US)
Release date
  • 2 September 2002 (2002-09-02) (Venice)
  • 7 February 2003 (2003-02-07) (Italy)
  • 30 May 2003 (2003-05-30) (United Kingdom)
  • 4 September 2003 (2003-09-04) (United States: TV)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
United Kingdom
United States
BudgetUS$30 million


Infamous psychopath Tom Ripley is involved in an art forgery scheme in Berlin, in partnership with a thuggish sociopathic British gangster named Reeves. Upon finding out that he has walked into a scam orchestrated by Reeves, a violent argument erupts resulting in Ripley murdering the friend of his "customer" over a perceived sleight. Ripley exploits the advantage created by his homicidal outburst, and at gunpoint forces the "customer" to hand over to Ripley millions of dollars originally intended for the forgeries, money that was previously earmarked to Reeves. He also steals back the artwork for himself, curtly declaring that his partnership with Reeves is over, apologizing for the "death" he caused as he leaves. Three years later, Ripley is living in a lush villa in Veneto with his wife Luisa, a beautiful harpsichordist. Invited by a neighbour to a party, Ripley overhears the host, Jonathan Trevanny, insulting his taste and making a guarded reference to his questionable past of depraved psychopathic behavior and violence. Ripley briefly confronts him, then sullenly leaves the party.

Reeves resurfaces, much to Ripley's annoyance, asking him to eliminate a rival mobster. Remembering the slight from three years earlier, Ripley recommends that an amateur be hired to do it. Reeves takes him literally and extorts a man named Trevanny, a law-abiding art framer who is dying of leukemia. Reeves offers a bewildered Trevanny the job. Knowing that he doesn't have long to live and that the money could be left to his wife and son upon his death, Trevanny reluctantly agrees to perform the hit, which he assumes will be a one-time-only assignment. However, upon seeing Travanny's total desperation, Reeves exploits his weakness and blackmails him into taking on another assassination, this time a much more complicated one on a train.

A panicking Trevanny freezes up on the train, realizing he is in over his head, only for Ripley himself to appear unexpectedly. He intervenes in the nick of time and the two of them dispatch the target and his two bodyguards in the train's toilet. Trevanny forms an uneasy friendship with Ripley, who feels pity for Trevanny, and now bears a grudge against Reeves for trolling him over his original sarcastic advice. Together they returns home, where Trevanny vainly attempts to persuade his wife Sarah that he won his money from playing roulette after his hospital visit in Berlin. With Reeves indignant with Ripley for him essentially taking possession over Trevanny, which he now considers a valuable possession, unaware of Ripley's involvement in the assassinations, Reeves tantrums and declares his intent to harass them both. He ignores Ripley's warnings to keep a low-profile, fearing that the mafia will seek reprisal for the killing and deduce by his drama who was involved. As predicted, the mobsters' associates come to Italy seeking revenge, killing Reeves at his favorite restaurant and leaving his body in the boot of their car. They storm Ripley's villa but Ripley, anticipating this outcome, has set them up, carefully boobytrapping his home with deadly traps. With Trevanny's help, Ripley cleverly terminates each of them, and the two bond over the experience.

Ripley leaves Trevanny under the assumption that all the killers have been dispatched. However, Trevanny returns home to find two surviving gangsters holding Sarah captive. Ripley spots the killers' silver BMW outside in the bushes and doubles back to Trevanny's in time to save his wife. However, Trevanny sacrifices himself to save Ripley being shot by a wounded assassin. Genuinely puzzled by Trevanny's selflessness, Ripley tries to give Sarah her husband's share of the blood money, but she only spits in his face in reply. That night, Ripley attends Luisa's concert as if nothing has happened, but smiles briefly, touched by the memory of Trevanny's sacrifice and genuine friendship.



The film received positive critical reviews, with a 92% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 24 reviews.[2] Roger Ebert added Ripley's Game to his "Great Movies" list, calling it "the best of the four" Ripley films he had seen (Purple Noon, The American Friend, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley's Game) and Malkovich "precisely the Tom Ripley I imagine when I read the novels," praising what he felt to be "one of [his] most brilliant and insidious performances."[3] Ebert criticized the decision not to release the film theatrically in North America, writing: "The failure to open it theatrically was a shameful blunder."[4]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, writing: "Malkovich oils himself around the plot icy cool one moment, blazingly violent the next with a master's finesse. Highsmith wrote five Ripley novels, and other actors have played the part, most recently and most blandly Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. But Malkovich owns the role. He plays it for keeps."[5] David Rooney of Variety wrote, "Malkovich's elegantly malicious performance gives Ripley's Game a magnetic center, complemented by Liliana Cavani's efficient direction and an enjoyable retro feel that recalls the British Cold War thrillers of the 1960s. Despite some pedestrian plotting and a final act that could be tighter, this is suspenseful adult entertainment that should find a receptive audience."[6]

Other critics were less favorable, such as Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, who gave the film two stars out of five.[7] Some critics compared the film unfavorably to Wim Wenders' 1977 adaptation, The American Friend. Nathan Rabin of The Onion's A.V. Club remarked, "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."[8] Neil Young's Film Lounge, giving Ripley's Game a score of 6 out of 10, called the film a "largely uninspired" adaptation by a "pedestrian" director, calling The American Friend "brilliant" by comparison, feeling that "any viewer who is a fan of Highsmith and/or The American Friend will have major problems with this version."[9]


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