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Monday, 2 June, 2003, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Ripley's Game
Ripley's Game
Newsnight Review discussed John Malkovich in Ripley's Game.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

Paul Morley, casting John Malkovich this time round seems to me both the strength of the film and its weakness. He is so dominant.

Yes. It's like a solo piece, where people occasionally come in and join him. On this performance, it makes me realise that I want to be John Malkovich when I grow up. It's a great life that he leads, and it clearly is John Malkovich. For me, it kind of relates to The Talented Mr Ripley, the way that Hannibal related to Silence of the Lambs. Silence of the Lambs and Talented Mr Ripley are much more subtle, controlled films. This is showing off a little bit. They've found this great character, a kind of existential, for grown-ups, of a Batman franchise, or something, and Malkovich is just so superb in it. He's so lazy, he dominates the timing. If the film wants to move quicker, he is always dragging it back. He moves so fabulously, his taste is so fabulous. But, of course, the central thing is that he's taking as much pleasure from murdering people as he is from Picasso or an Amerone. It's that amoral sense of the film, you feel a bit guilty watching it because you're realising that the nature of how he murders, why he murders, and how he gets pleasure from it, is deeply seductive.

You can imagine that, if you don't have your moral compass, he makes it seem like it is quite easy for sane people to do such things?

Except he is not sane. He is supposed to be a complex, weird character. We don't see him as something that we identify with, he's somebody we admire. He does completely unbalance the film, because he is the only reason for going to see it, but the problem is that everybody else is reduced to nothing. Dougray Scott, who is a very fine actor, ends up reacting rather than acting. The problem with the Malkovich characterisation is that he does it the best he can, with something that wants to be an amoral, chilling thriller. In fact, it's about as amoral and thrilling and chilling as a story from the Children's Bible. The reason for that is it's simply not complex enough. There is a wonderful bit in one of the books where Patricia Highsmith says that Ripley can't make love to his wife on their honeymoon because there is a parrot in the vicinity, which is whistling an aria from Carmen. This man has an incredibly strange sexuality, and this is reduced in this version to a hint that he might be into heterosexual sodomy. It's a very strange film, because it simply doesn't make sense in its own terms. Quite often, things that happen shouldn't happen. For instance, an assassin is about to sneak into a house, turns on the lights.

There are some very Carry On moments.

There's this man trap that he's supposed to tether a huge hulk of a man to the ground and make him immovable. When they try it, it doesn't even slice through a baguette either! We had this wonderful sequence where we are told that the town that they live in is so small that everybody knows that Dougray Scott's character is terminally ill, and yet three Mafiosi from Russia and a cockney gangster can turn up, and be bumped off, and nobody notices!

I was going to pick up on the idea that Malkovich was lazy. Actually, I thought he was beautiful. The idea, as well, that a murderer can take great pride in the aesthetics of the way he approaches his art of murdering psychologically, was one of the great masterful performances of this. This is not a very interesting film. Lots of firms aren't very interesting. If you look at the great classical actors of the whole movie period, many of them are in plots that are dull. What's outstanding is when they turn the plot into something which is totally personal, motivated by some psychology we don't fully understand. I was thinking, "Here is a fantastic theatre actor, proving again how having this layering of psychology underneath a plot, you will never get at it," and he is amazing.

Malkovich is good in almost everything he does, but this is not his best performance. There are times when you can see him counting the cracks in the villa wall. He's great, but nobody would say his best performance ever.

That's the kind of grace that I think he brings to it. When I said lazy, I was saying it was in a celebratory, masculine way. It's the way people of our generation want to grow up. It's the laziness, the way moves, the way he takes his phone off the floor, the way he wears his clothes. That kind of laziness. The wonkiness of film is interesting, because it does remind me of when European films are made in the English language, like a Polanski, where everything slightly doesn't join. It's clearly a fantasy. There is no way that we could pay any attention to the plot.

There's some wonkiness which is technical, so when you have the Italian, he's lip- synched.

It adds to the wonkiness of the overall film, which I find quite pleasurable.

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