Tom Ripley (John Malkovich): You’re not planning on singing me through the door, are you?
Reeves (Ray Winstone): I’ve got the Carregio in here.
Tom Ripley: Well, you’re not coming in.
Reeves: I’m fucking coming in.
Tom Ripley: No, because it’s not a Carregio, it’s a Correggio. Just like it’s not tacco but ta-a-cco. Not pasto but pasta, see? Your entire education comes from Classic Car magazine and you dress like you’re on a condom run for the mob. By the way, it isn’t a Correggio, it’s a fake Rembrandt and until you know that, you’re not coming in with me.
Reeves: Don’t fuck me over here, prat.
Tom Ripley: Don’t threaten me. I’m not the one wearing an earring.
And with this truly wonderful piece of verbal badinage (it could only be Malkovich versus Winstone), we are back in the shadowy, elegant and quite deadly world of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, previously encountered in Anthony Minghella’s enjoyable but far less adept take on our hero’s younger days, The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).
Liliana Cavani, who writes and directs, takes us into the cold heart of darkness that is Ripley – an utterly charming, erudite and wealthy gentleman of leisure, presently living in Italy with his beautiful partner Maria (Evelina Meghnagi), a talented harpsichordist. But there are irritations on the horizon; his former ‘partner’ Reeves (Winstone), a sleazy Berlin night-club owner, is looking to remove some of his local competition and, figuring that Ripley owes him a favour, turns up unanounced, demanding that an ‘innocent’ be located to do the job for a large sum of money. Ripley might just have the man; local picture-framer, Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott), who made the mistake of insulting our Tom when he was in earshot, and who also happens to be dying of chronic myloid leukemia. The game is about to begin…
A large part of the film’s fascination lies in the fact that, as with James Bond, most men would probably want to be Ripley, if only for a day. Malkovich’s preternatural calm, even when engaging in vile atrocities, is simply captivating, and together with Cavani’s tight, literate script, captures at once the sense of charming amorality and disdain for unrefined people that is at the character’s core.
“You know the most interesting thing about doing something terrible? After a few days, you can’t even remember it.” Or how about this one? “I’m a creation. A gifted improviser. I lack your conscience and when I was young that troubled me. It no longer does. I don’t worry about being caught because I don’t believe anyone is watching. The world is not a poorer place because those people are dead – it’s not. It’s one less car on the road. It’s a little less noise and menace. You were brave today. You put some money away for your family. That’s all.”
Although playing to well-honed type, Ray Winstone, too, is immaculately cast as the boorish thug that’s the fly in Ripley’s ointment. Interesting, too, is the story’s approach to ‘buddy-buddy’ – Dougray Scott’s strung-out performance would initially appear to make bonding with Ripley unlikely, but the story really does go off in all sorts of unexpected directions.
Don’t make Ripley angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.