Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, Ripley's
Game re-introduces us to the character of Tom Ripley. Viewers may
know him from the excellent film The Talented Mr. Ripley (also
based on one of Highsmith's novels), with Matt Damon in the title
role. But this is not a sequel, per se; you don't have to know who
Ripley is... the opening scene of Ripley's Game does a
brilliant job of capturing the essence of the character.
Here, Ripley is portrayed by John Malkovich, and the story takes
place in the present day (the date is left unstated, but cell phones
are always a tipoff). This is an older Ripley, not the young,
insecure fellow we met in The Talented Mr. Ripley; here
we see Ripley as a confident, mature man of the world. One thing
hasn't changed, though: Ripley is still a classic sociopath, blithely
self-centered, unconcerned with trifles of "right" and
"wrong," and only paying attention to the things that give
him pleasure, whether it's listening to beautiful music, looking at
famous artworks, cooking a fine meal, or playing sadistic mind games
with other people.
Ripley's Game is not just a character study, though: first and
foremost it's a crime thriller, with a unique twist. As the story
opens, Ripley is approached by an old associate who wants someone to
kill off a few of his business competitors, who happen to be bosses
of organized crime. Rather than do it himself, Ripley decides to act
as puppet master and ensnare his innocent neighbor, Jonathan
Trevanny, who made the fatal mistake of getting on Ripley's bad side.
The story moves along steadily, with a growing sense of doom hanging
over Trevanny's head as events snowball and seem to slip out of his
The viewer is drawn into this sordid tale, and in a sense invited to
become complicit in it. Who is the protagonist here, and who is the
antagonist? There are certainly no clear "good guys" and
"bad guys." Ripley certainly comes across as a sinister
figure and Trevanny as a hapless innocent, but then again, Ripley
only sets the pieces on the board; Trevanny is the one who chooses to
act on what's presented to him. Trevanny acts for what he believes
are good reasons, but in the end, we see everything fall apart; in a
sense, it's a cautionary tale about the consequences of acting
against our better instincts. But what of Ripley, who has no such
better instincts? What do we want to happen to him? He's intriguing
in the way a venomous snake is interesting: oddly fascinating, but
certainly not safe to be around.
The film version of Ripley's Game is quite faithful to the
book; in fact, I'd say that the changes are improvements. The story
is tightened up and some overly complex situations (like the manner
in which Trevanny is drawn into the plot) are simplified, allowing
the film to focus on the key elements of the story and to move
smoothly forward from start to finish. The opening scene is not drawn
from the book, but in fact it's a lot more effective than the book's
opening; it sets the edgy tone for the rest of the film, and it
serves to dramatically introduce the character of Ripley to viewers
who haven't seen or read any of his previous exploits.
Ripley's Game appears in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect
ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. It's an attractive transfer that
offers an enjoyable viewing experience overall; colors and contrast
are handled well throughout the film, and edge enhancement is
minimal. However, there's a slight softness and occasional shimmer in
the image that comes from a constant low level of noise, so the
transfer stays at the "very good" level rather than moving
up to "outstanding."
Three soundtrack options are provided: the default Dolby 5.1, a DTS
5.1, and a Dolby 2.0. Ripley's Game is a shining example of
how surround sound can enhance the viewing experience of any movie,
even one that's not full of car chases and special effects. The use
of the surround channels in the DTS track is exceptional: music is
smoothly wrapped around the viewer to create a general immersive
atmosphere, and the use of localized sound effects is extensive, from
the sound of footsteps in a crowded room to background noise at a
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack also handles the surround quite well, though
the DTS does win out by its overall richer sound. The Dolby 2.0 track
is acceptable but it feels much flatter and lacks the richness and
excellent surround of the other tracks.
The one thing that doesn't always come off so well is the clarity of
the dialogue. On several occasions the dialogue has a slightly harsh,
distorted quality to it. Fortunately, this doesn't happen with all
the dialogue. All in all, the soundtrack for Ripley's Game still
deserves a high mark, with the outstanding "you are there"
atmosphere created by the soundtrack making up for the occasional
imperfections in the dialogue.
English and Spanish subtitles are provided as an option.
There's not much here by way of bonus content. We get a theatrical
trailer for Ripley's Game and a selection of trailers for
other New Line films, and that's it. There is a link for DVD-ROM/web
content, but that's really not the same thing as providing actual
special features that are accessible to all viewers.
thriller with a decidedly non-traditional assortment of characters,
Ripley's Game is a film that's well worth seeing. It's a
well-made film that provides an entertaining plot, and that also
offers an unsettling thematic undercurrent about the way people deal
with the practical applications of "right" and "wrong."