Pop quiz, hotshot: what do Alain Delon, Matt Damon and Dennis Hopper have in common? They've all played Tom Ripley, the charming sociopathic anti-hero of Patricia Highsmith's novels. It's a role open to a variety of interpretations - - Damon's Talented Mr Ripley is a world away from Hopper's Stetson-sporting American Friend - - so there's nothing wrong with John Malkovich having a go in this engrossing suspenser from Liliana Night Porter Cavani.
After the self-flagellation of Being John Malkovich and the excesses of Johnny English, it's good to see Malkovich playing it straight. The result is his finest screen performance for years, his bald Machiavelli exuding hypnotic charisma whether he's canoodling with trophy bride Chiara Caselli or testing lethal mantraps in his kitchen.
It's an allure that appeals to both sexes. Okay, so there's none of Talented's homoeroticism, but look at how Dougray Scott's dying ex-pat is drawn to Malkovich's amoral aesthete... This attraction also explains why Scott allows himself to become an assassin in gangster Ray Winstone's employ - all part of the "game" Ripley sets in motion to brighten up life in north-east Italy.
Shame he couldn't brighten up Cavani's drab direction, which makes this exquisite tale of intrigue as visually alluring as The Midsomer Murders. The goggle-box comparisons continue with Winstone's Cockney bruiser, who acts like he's arrived via Albert Square. Malkovich has him for breakfast, but then he does get all the best lines. ""Hold my watch"," Malkovich orders Scott shortly before garroting three Ukrainian gangsters on the Berlin-Düsseldorf Express. ""If it breaks, I'll kill everyone on this train"."
With flat photography and indifferent acting from some of the supporting cast, this Game is still worth playing thanks to Highsmith's perfect plotting and Malkovich's screen-stealing performance.
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