Reeves (Ray Winstone) is in Berlin, carrying a portfolio of highly valuable sketches to his associate Tom Ripley (John Malkovich). Ripley has come to an arrangement with an art dealer and the uncouth Reeves wants to go into the office with him, but the more refined Ripley tells him to stay put. Once inside, Ripley is informed by the dealer that he will buy the merchandise for $1.2 milliion - he is turned down and asked for more. When no more is forthcoming, Ripley begins to pack away the sketches and before any further protests he beats the dealer's heavy to death with a poker. This done, he gets to keep the artworks and the money: it's all in the game...
Less a remake of The American Friend and more a new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, Ripley's Game saw Malkovich slipping into the arch-conman's role with commendable ease. He was more a Ripley than Dennis Hopper before him, or even Matt Damon and Alain Delon in some respects and if this film was offered fairly pedestrian handling, its star provided many of the reasons to watch. The shoot was rumoured to be a troubled one, with director Liliana Cavani supposedly walking off and leaving Malkovich to finish it himself.
None of this shows in the final product, and the whole affair has an agreeably Euro-thriller style to it without being too flashy. The game of the title begins three years after the Berlin events when Ripley, now resident in an Italian mansion thanks to his ill-gotten gains, happens to walk into a party thrown by the local picture framer, Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott). There he is in the room when Trevanny is bitching about him, and this display of arrogant bad manners is enough to seal his fate as far as his insulted guest is concerned.
Reeves happens to stride back into Ripley's life, and Ripley decides he has just the man for his latest scheme. Trevanny is dying of cancer and worries over his young family, including wife Sarah (Lena Headey), fretting that they won't have enough money once he goes, so when Reeves offers him a handsome sum to murder a gang boss, an act that he is persuaded will be doing society a favour, Trevanny takes it. Like much of the film, the murder is plainly filmed but does its job in a workmanlike fashion, drawing the hapless picture framer deeper into trouble.
As you may wonder what is going on in Ripley's head, Reeves comes up with another proposition: the second half of the deal as it were and Trevanny is forced to board a train that a rival gang boss is on, all with a view to killing him and setting off a gangland war. By this time he is a nervous wreck - a joyless Scott makes a fair stooge even if his English accent wavers - and Ripley has to take matters into his own hands. Which is not to say that Trevanny isn't punished, of course. The other cast members aren't hugely inspired, but it's Malkovich's antihero who really shines in a role that is ideal for his typically mannered performing. Regarding the world with repitilian eyes, his amoral and resourceful Ripley is faithful to Highsmith in spirit and allows for a strain of black humour that highlights a fine example of casting. Music by Ennio Morricone.