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By Rich Cline | May 26, 2003

Based on a much later series of events in the life of the talented Mr. Ripley, this film boasts another of Patricia Highsmith’s cleverly Hitchcockian plots but lacks the spark and energy of Anthony Minghella’s earlier film. An older and wiser Tom Ripley (John Malkovich) now lives in opulence in northern Italy with his wife Luisa (Chiara Caselli). But when annoying former cohort Reeves (Ray Winstone) comes back into his life, Ripley plays a little “joke” on his naive British neighbor Jonathan (Dougray Scott), who happens to be dying of leukemia: He suggests to Reeves that Jonathan can carry out a hit on a Russian mafioso. Soon events are spiraling out of control … can Ripley maintain his constant cool and get them all out of it?
Italian director-co writer Liliana Cavani films the story elegantly, making nice use of the settings in both Italy and Berlin, coaxing understated, insinuating performances out of the cast and keeping things ticking ahead on two levels–what we see and what’s really happening. There’s a gentle stream of black humor and sly wit, although scenes progress with an almost painful slowness and tranquility, despite the gruesome death lurking around every corner. In this sense, the film is very much like Hitchcock (especially the extended, increasingly tense train sequence). Even with their subdued energy, the cast is good. Malkovich does his “Dangerous Liaisons” slick-slimy routine, reining in his usual scene-chewing for more restrained displays of brainy humor. Winstone does virtually the same character he did so well in “Sexy Beast,” only this time with about half the brain cells; his bumbling British thug is great fun to watch. And Scott plays against type as a mopey blob of a man, dragged from innocence to guilt by one bad decision. With just a slight sense of pacing, this could have been a terrific dramatic thriller. As is, it’s fascinating and entertaining, but rather dull as well.

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