John Malkovich, oozing danger and sinister charm, gives one of the year’s most memorable and mesmerizing performances in Ripley’s Game, as slithery and seductive a thriller as you’ll find. But don’t expect Malkovich to take his rightful place among the nominees for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars, at least not for this movie. You can see Ripley’s Game at film festivals, in European movie houses, on cable TV and on DVD, due for release on March 30th. Where you can’t see it is in a theater near you. And without a theatrical release in Los Angeles, no movie is eligible for Academy Awards. There are byzantine business reasons that cost Ripley’s Game its chance at the multiplex. But why would the Academy, allegedly dedicated to honoring excellence in film, use a rule book to shut a door?
Oscar or not, don’t shut yourself off from Ripley’s Game. Director Liliana Cavani (The Night Porter) has updated Patricia Highsmith’s 1974 novel to the present and given Malkovich the juiciest role of his career, as an American psychopath living in Italy who persuades a Brit family man (Dougray Scott), dying of leukemia, to join him in an assassination scheme. Malkovich oils himself around the plot — icy cool one moment, blazingly violent the next — with a master’s finesse. Highsmith wrote five Ripley novels, and other actors have played the part, most recently and most blandly Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. But Malkovich owns the role. He plays it for keeps.