Benji (2018)

2018 #53
Brandon Camp | 87 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | PG

Benji

Aww, look at the cute lickle doggie! And all the cute tricks and stuff he can do!

“5

Okay, more seriously…

One of Netflix’s latest original movies (they’re releasing 700 this year, so there’ve probably been another 154 since this came out a couple of weeks ago), Benji is a reboot of the ’70s/’80s dog movie franchise, arguably best remembered because its 1987 instalment, Benji the Hunted, earnt a “thumbs up” rating from Roger Ebert the same week he gave Full Metal Jacket a “thumbs down”. I don’t know if I’m going to be giving any classic movies a poor rating this week, but I’m definitely giving the new Benji a big thumbs up.

The film begins as it means to go on: with misery. (Seriously, this is quite a gloomy, peril-filled film alongside all the cute canine antics.) On a dark and stormy night, a dog warden snatches a mother and her three young pups, accidentally leaving one behind. He tries to give chase, but can only look on forlornly as his whole family is carted away. Aww! He sets off along the road, growing up on his travels, and eventually finds himself in New Orleans. There he stumbles into the lives and hearts of two kids, Carter (Gabriel Bateman) and Frankie (Darby Camp), who decide to name him Benji. They live with their mom (Kiele Sanchez), who’s struggling to make ends meet and keep her kids happy since the death of their father (see, more misery). Anyway, the kids get kidnapped and Benji’s the only witness to where they’ve gone, but the silly humans can’t follow his hints properly, so Benji sets off to rescue his newfound family by himself.

Benji's on the case

Benji isn’t half bad for a kids’ movie. And while it is undoubtedly a kids’ movie, it can get quite dark and serious at times — well, quite a lot of the time (it’s a PG for a reason) — but there’s a good storyline and some strong themes. It’s not super realistic (I mean, you read my plot description, right?), but it mixes in just enough real-life hardship to sell itself. There are decent performances too, including from the two kids, who I’ve seen other reviews criticise. I mean, they’re not going to be troubling next year’s Oscars, but they’re not bad. Certainly, I’ve seen poorer turns from child actors in proper adult movies, and definitely ones that have been more irritatingly objectionable. The choice to set the film in New Orleans is a nice one as well, offering a different and distinctive flavour to the usual stomping grounds of New York or L.A.

But that’s all gravy to the real reason we’re here: the dogs. My introductory joke was, actually, kinda serious: Benji himself is a clear 5-out-of-5, both super cute and super smart. Yes, I know the film’s edited to make him preternaturally clever (there’s an awesomely daft sequence where he thinks back over everything he’s seen and comes up with a plan), but the tricks he performs without the aid of editing show that he’s a damn well trained doggy. Variety’s review writes about the Kuleshov effect, which is “the basic principle of film editing, established by Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov nearly a century ago, that audiences attribute emotion to a blank face according to the shot immediately before or after”, and how Benji uses that to make the dog give a ‘performance’. Director Brandon Camp applies that technique more than once, I’m sure, but Benji’s got enough tricks at his disposal that such artifice isn’t always necessary to build character. Also, blimey can that dog run!

Run, Benji, run!

Okay, if dogs don’t tickle your fancy in any way then there’s nothing for you here; but as a lover of dogs — and particularly little scruffy ones like Benji — this film was a near-constant delight. It’s pretty great entertainment for kids too, though don’t stick it on unless you’re prepared for them to want a Benji of their own afterwards.

4 out of 5

Benji is available on Netflix now and forever.

Coincidentally, Full Metal Jacket will be reviewed later this year as one of my “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” films.

Life Itself (2014)

2015 #166
Steve James | 121 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

Roger Ebert was an influential, respected, beloved critic for decades, and one with an interesting life: he began in old-school newspaper journalism, defined TV movie criticism, and eventually spearheaded the profession’s move online. So it merits recounting in this documentary by the director of Hoop Dreams, a film Ebert championed.

Based on his memoir, it tells Ebert’s story while also documenting his final days — as filming began, his long-standing illness worsened. The result serves as a tribute, but it’s no hagiography: his darker sides are explored, making the film more truthful (something Ebert would have supported) and better for it.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Fight Club (1999)

2011 #16a
David Fincher | 139 mins | Blu-ray | 18 / R

Fight ClubI used to have a friend who loved all kinds of action movies and rap movies and other kinds of violence-obsessed forms of entertainment. He once tried to watch Fight Club, in the wake of the praise poured upon it and no doubt interested in the visceral thrill of the fighting element, but got bored about halfway through and turned it off. He was not impressed. Please note that halfway through is certainly after the titular club, and all its associated antics, begins.

I start with this story because I’m now going to pick on Roger Ebert’s 1999 review of Fight Club. I don’t know if his opinion has changed in the intervening decade — a decade which has seen Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahnuik’s novel quickly canonised as a generation-defining modern classic — but we’ll take his review as an example of all the critical ones (the reasonably critical ones, anyway — unreasonable critics are impossible to argue against after all), because he’s respected and because I can’t be bothered to trawl through too much more of the big pile of reviews Rotten Tomatoes offers up. But more so, actually, because I’d be here forever batting away criticism after criticism if I did.

Incidentally, the film has there an 81% approval rating. This is perhaps negated by the fact it includes more recent reviews — some are of the Blu-ray, for instance — but a debate about whether it should be an archive of original-release critical opinions or of all-time critical opinions is for somewhere else. My point is, critics who dislike Fight Club are in the minority (29 ‘rotten’ reviews vs 122 ‘fresh’ ones), so it might just be a little cruel to go picking on them all. Though rubbish like “Fight Club undermines any seriousness it might have harboured with an avalanche of smirky cynicism designed to flatter the hipper-than-thou fantasies of adolescent moviegoers,” doesn’t so much need rebuttal as offering of some literature to the reviewer. Plus it comes from a Christian magazine/website so it’d be a bit like picking on a kid with learning disabilities.

So, Ebert.Ebert

Of course, Fight Club itself does not advocate Durden’s philosophy. It is a warning against it, I guess

At least he starts here. To miss that would be… well, I’ll return to that point later. On the other hand, he’s surely using it to preemptively cut-off criticism of his criticism — Ebert is adept at predicting ways people might defend a movie and telling them they were wrong in advance, as we have seen.

Although sophisticates will be able to rationalize the movie as an argument against the behavior it shows, my guess is that audience will like the behavior but not the argument. Certainly they’ll buy tickets because they can see Pitt and Norton pounding on each other; a lot more people will leave this movie and get in fights than will leave it discussing Tyler Durden’s moral philosophy.

…whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that’s not what most audience members will get.

This is the primary reason I’ve chosen Ebert’s review to pick on, and it was this paragraph that led to my opening one. My guess is, the kind of person liable to buy in to Tyler’s moral philosophy and engage in similar fights will get bored by the movie and go watch something that’s more straight-up action (or just go get in a fight, of course). To say that only “sophisticates” will be able to comprehend the points the film is actually making does a disservice to most viewers. Now, I’m not going to be one of the first to jump to the defence of the great unwashed — when programmes like The X Factor rule our TV schedules it’s quite clear their cultural taste is highly questionable — but I don’t think you have to be exceptionally gifted to get what Fight Club’s driving at. Tyler DurdenPerhaps I’m coming at it from too privileged a background? I don’t know. But I still don’t believe people would be so easily led as Ebert implies; and those that might be probably got bored and switched off.

Maybe at the time it was a genuine fear that Fight Club would inspire violence (a different review compares the potential effect to A Clockwork Orange’s over here), but history has proven it near groundless. In over a decade since its release, there have been no more than a handful of incidents one might directly and solely attribute to Fight Club’s influence.

And just maybe, it was already covering the thoughts of a generation — rather than being the spark that set them off, it was reflecting back a mentality that already existed and saying, “look, don’t go this far with that thought”. It’s not groundless to think that: Palahniuk interviewed young white-collar workers while writing the novel and widely found opinions which he worked into the novel, about the influence of a lack of father figures and the resentment of the lifestyles advertising promoted. All of this is carried over into the film.

In many ways, it’s like Fincher’s movie The Game… That film was also about a testing process in which a man drowning in capitalism (Michael Douglas) has the rug of his life pulled out from under him and has to learn to fight for survival. I admired The Game much more than Fight Club because it was really about its theme

Hm.

For better or worse, I think Fight Club is far more tied into its themes than The Game is. Fincher’s earlier film, as I discussed yesterday, is a well-made and entertaining thriller, and it does have a similar thematic basis to Fight Club — Douglas’ character is effectively stripped of his lifestyle to show how hollow it isDiscussion and what he’s lacking as a human being. That just underscores the action, however; it adds something to the film, certainly, but there’s nothing there to lead viewers to “leave the movie… discussing [its] moral philosophy”. Fight Club, on the other hand, is more forward about its thematic points. Both the Narrator and Tyler spout philosophical tidbits at various points, and their differing reactions to the path they take considers this too. It still works as a story — it isn’t just facilitating an essay on the subjects of free will and consumerism — but it’s more present, and presents more to consider, and perhaps discuss, than The Game does.

Later, the movie takes still another turn. A lot of recent films seem unsatisfied unless they can add final scenes that redefine the reality of everything that has gone before; call it the Keyser Soze syndrome.

…the third [act] is trickery

Ah, the twist.

Despite what Ebert implies, Fight Club’s twist works. It makes sense. “Sense” in the sense that the characters are mentally ill and we’ve been let into their experience — quite literally, an unreliable Narrator — but that fits. Clues are littered throughout. You can argue they’re not fundamental to the story — most are lines or asides that hint at it — but I don’t think it’s a nonsensical turn of events. In fact, one could argue that it contains perhaps the film’s biggest point: beneath the veneer of consumer-focused office-working modern life, every man has a Tyler Durden who wants to put society to rights. The question becomes, should he be let out; He likes himself reallyFight Club explores what might happen if he were, but leaves it up to the viewer to decide if it turned out for the best (while strongly erring, despite what Ebert suggests, to the side of “no”).

The twist also calls to mind The Game again. Whereas knowing the end result of that film’s twist (or twists, really) can scupper it after only another viewing or two, Fight Club doesn’t suffer in the slightest from the revelation that… well, y’know (and if you don’t, that’s why I’ve not said it). You can watch it again and pick up the clues and see how it works — and, as I said, it does — but you can also still enjoy the film, its story and its ideas without the need for the twist to remain a surprise. A bit like Se7en, I suppose.

Another point that interests me here is the audience’s reaction to a filmmaker who uses twists. As we’ve seen, Fincher produced three films in a row that had considerable twist endings; two of them often number in lists of the best movie twists ever. So how is it that he didn’t gain a particular reputation for twist endings, whereas M. Night Shyamalan gained one after… well, one film. I’m not complaining about this — the constant need to provide a shocking last-minute rug-pull has gone on to scupper Shyamalan’s career — but the difference of reaction/public perception is intriguing. I’m sure there are reasons — the sheer size of The Sixth Sense’s twist relative to those in Fincher’s films (it’s only Fight Club’s, his third such film, that changes everything we’ve seen in the same way); the way Shyamalan appeared to court the reputation; and so on.

As a means of dealing with his pain, [the Narrator] seeks out 12-step meetings, where he can hug those less fortunate than himself and find catharsis in their suffering. It is not without irony that the first meeting he attends is for post-surgical victims of testicular cancer, since the whole movie is about guys afraid of losing their cojones.

That, however, is some reasonable analysis. I liked this.

Bob's boobsTo round off this defence of Fight Club, let’s call up the BBFC (this is the point I said I’d return to). You may remember they cut four seconds of violence from the film (reinstated in 2007. Incidentally, the MPAA had no problem whatsoever with the violence but questioned some of the sex, such as Tyler being seen wearing a rubber glove. American values regarding sex/violence on film and TV are seriously questionable.) In 1999, when asked to ban the film for glamourising and encouraging the kind of behaviour it contains, the BBFC refused, and in no uncertain terms:

The film as a whole is — quite clearly — critical and sharply parodic of the amateur fascism which in part it portrays. Its central theme of male machismo (and the anti-social behaviour that flows from it) is emphatically rejected by the central character in the concluding reels.

Maybe it’s just me, but such a definitive statement — underlined by the relatively informal addition of “quite clearly” — from an authoritative body, one that is (theoretically) objective about a film’s quality in lieu of deciding which age groups its content is suitable for, feels unusual to me; and, by extension, worth taking into consideration. Not as the be-all-and-end-all of the debate, of course, but if the BBFC are prepared to dismiss such criticism of the film with a “quite clearly” — a “if you missed it, you’re dim” kind of phrase — then you have to think it’s pretty obvious.

A couple of stray points before I go:

Tyler...If you’ve not read it, know that the film keeps a lot of Palahnuik’s novel. The narration often takes it verbatim. With the exception of the ending — changed, for the better — it’s a remarkably faithful adaptation.

Fincher’s films often look great, but Fight Club is surely the most visually inventive. A list of exciting spectacles could be endless, but for some: the title sequence, pulling back from the fear centre of the brain, through the brain, and down the barrel of a gun in extreme close-up; the IKEA catalogue condo shot; big sweeping flybys of tiny things — the contents of a trash can, kitchen appliances, bomb wiring; the meditation cave bits; flash frames of Tyler; the “let me tell you a bit about Tyler Durden” sequence, with the fourth-wall-obliterating to-camera narration and the interaction between ‘flashback’ & narrator; the crazy mutating sex scene… To top it off, the ‘regular’ cinematography is grounded in Fincher’s trademark darkness, as if every shot was conceived as just black and he added only what light was necessary.

And a pet peeve: Look at the end credits. See how Ed Norton’s character is credited as Jack? Oh, that’s right — he isn’t. He doesn’t have a name. The film makes a point of drawing our attention to this point: early on, Marla asks him his name; there is no answer. And that’s because his name isI am not Jack's anything (shh, whisper it) (…oh yes, I’m keeping this spoiler-free). There are counter arguments to that being his real name (his colleagues never call him it, only those who met him… after), but that’s beside the point. Stop calling him Jack. (I believe I read somewhere that, on the relevant DVD commentary, Ed Norton says he calls the character Jack. Not good enough reasoning for me.)

That’ll do, then.

At one point consensus seemed to have it that Fight Club was easily Fincher’s best movie, a generation-defining statement, “the first great film of the 21st Century” despite being released in 1999 (I can never remember who originated that quote). I don’t know if times have changed that as a widespread opinion, particularly with the acclaim The Social Network has received. That’s been called a generation-defining movie too, actually — two in as many decades; nice work. But I digress; such talk is for a few days’ time.

I’ve always preferred Se7en myself. I still do. But Fight Club is nonetheless an exceptional film.

5 out of 5

I watched Fight Club as part of a David Fincher Week. Read my thoughts on all his films to date here.

Speed Racer (2008)

2010 #21
The Wachowski Brothers | 135 mins | Blu-ray | PG / PG

Speed Racer feels like an unfair place to kick off these half-arsed efforts because, despite the critical and commercial apathy it found on release, I really enjoyed it. This close to giving it 5 stars, I was. Still, it’s my oldest unreviewed film (from this year), so…

Firstly, it’s visually astounding. Speed Racer’s blocks of vibrant colour and computer whizzery are a natural fit for the modern digital experience. Action sequences are mind-meltingly fast, but also incredibly thrilling. When CGI is blatantly used in an attempt to fake something real it can leave an action sequence hollow; but here, everything is pushed to the limit — and, probably, beyond — and so it works.

The plot doesn’t have many twists or turns — at least, not any that are genuinely surprising — and yet it rarely feels boring or stale. It’s buoyed by the crazy action sequences, the likeable characters, the unabashed sense of fun that’s poured into every sequence. Little flourishes mark the film out: the Hallelujah moment with the sweets on the plane; Racer X’s delivery of a simple punch amongst a bevy of complex car stunts; numerous others lost to my memory.

Even some of the performances stand out, not something you’d expect from such a (for want of a better word) lightweight tale. Of particular note are Susan Sarandon as Mom and Christina Ricci’s Trixie, whose huge eyes help render her perhaps one of the most perfect live-action versions of an anime character ever seen. Yes, the characters mostly exist to service their place in the plot, but the odd scene or glance or line delivery adds some subtlety here and there.

The mediocre-to-bad reviews Speed Racer received on its initial release seek to chastise you if you happen to like it — look, Ebert’s already informed us why we’re wrong should we even attempt claims of artistic integrity in the Wachowskis’ work. Maybe he’s right — he can list a whole load of commercial tie-ins at the end, after all. Then again, this is the man who gave Phantom Menace half-a-star shy of full marks, a film that was only a little about story and quite a bit about tie-in merchandise if ever there was one (he awarded Revenge of the Sith the same, incidentally, and has included the granddaddy of all film-tie-in-tat, Star Wars itself, in his Great Movies series). And, to specifically rubbish his opinions here, Phantom Menace is praised for being “made to be looked at more than listened to… filled with wonderful visuals” and condemns Speed Racer because “whatever information that passes from your retinas to your brain is conveyed through optical design and not so much through more traditional devices such as dialogue, narrative, performance or characterization… you could look at it with the sound off and it wouldn’t matter.” Not that Film’s unique factor (over novels or radio or what have you) is its visual sense, and a silent film that can be told through image alone, devoid of any intertitles, was once a lofty aim. I’m sure Ebert could readily explain why Phantom Menace’s visual splendour is a good thing and why Speed Racer’s is so terrible, but, on the other hand… pot, meet kettle.

(For a point of clarity, I normally like and agree with Ebert — I’m sure some previous reviews where I’ve cited him will attest to this — which is why I pick on his pair of opinions here rather than those of some lesser critic who can’t be expected to maintain a critical ideology from one film to the next, never mind two that sit almost a decade apart.)

Back to Speed Racer. In every respect it’s like a living cartoon, and it’s the Wachowskis’ commitment to this aesthetic in every single respect that makes it work where others have floundered. It’s not perfect, I suppose. It may run a little long at two-and-a-quarter hours; but then, it so rarely lets up that I didn’t mind a jot. And the kid is often annoying; but then, as annoying little kids in films go, I’ve seen worse. At times I even liked him.

But, all things considered, when the chips are down, with all said and done, and any other clichés you feel like listing for no particular reason, I found this to be a candy-coloured masterpiece.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Speed Racer is on Channel 5 today, Sunday 26th October 2014, at 6:20pm.

Children of Heaven (1997)

aka Bacheha-Ye aseman

2009 #83
Majid Majidi | 82 mins* | TV | PG

Children of HeavenChildren of Heaven is an Iranian film, which means it’s in a Foreign Language and it’s Subtitled. And yet, it was on ITV. Sometimes the mind boggles. Still, it was relegated to a post-midnight showing, so some things never change. Indeed, the one thing that inspired me to watch it is that it’s referred to by Roger Ebert in his wonderfully evangelical (about film, not Christianity (thank God!)) article to commemorate reaching 100 entries in his Great Movies series. I recommend it, incidentally; Children of Heaven comes up for good reason about halfway through.

The film itself is a charming little number, with a simple story about a brother and sister that nonetheless runs itself on inventive incident — the amount of (pleasingly light-hearted) drama it can ring from one missing pair of shoes is, in many ways, quite extraordinary. It also contains moments of simple beauty and pleasure, like blowing bubbles while cleaning or sunlight glittering on the goldfish pool. This is more what I had in mind when someone described Slumdog Millionaire as “feel-good”.

Speaking of which, Children of Heaven adds depth with an amiable commentary on poverty: this poor family live in close proximity to such rich ones, but they can all get along. When Zahra sees another girl wearing her shoes, she doesn’t confront her or demand them back, even when the other girl’s dad buys her a brand new pair and the all-important pair are thrown away again. Halfway through, Ali and their father go up to town and we see how the other half live — enough glass-fronted skyscrapers, dozen-laned roads, tree-lined avenues and blindingly-white mansions to rival any metropolis. And yet they don’t get angry at their lot, and the film doesn’t shove the obvious comparison down your throat. It doesn’t go for the simplistic and oft-tried “poor have little, but have each other so are ultimately happy; rich have lots, but are lonely and so ultimately sad” conclusion (though it does, briefly, err along that path), and nor does it end with the family getting rich and managing to move up in the world.

In fact, the finale deals solely with the issue of the shoes (pun not intended). It’s a long-distance running competition in which Ali must come third in order to win a new pair of sneakers. It’s nail-biting and a beautifully conceived idea — he doesn’t need to win, he needs to come third. If only mainstream films were so simply innovative more often.

Unfortunately, several plot threads feel underdeveloped or unresolved, ultimately coming across as a pleasant but unnecessary aside — the elderly neighbours, for example, who Ali delivers soup to in one scene, or the persistent landlord. The viewer can read more into these if they wish — the neighbours representing the generosity of those with nothing, for example, while we can assume the landlord is eventually paid off now Ali’s father apparently has better employment — but the film itself does nothing with them. There’s a difference between not spelling things out and just abandoning them, and perhaps Children of Heaven falls on the wrong side of this divide. It’s most galling at the very end (after the race), when the film seems to just stop abruptly. IMDb notes that originally there was an epilogue explaining Ali’s future which is for some reason absent from the American-released version, and the presence of something like that is indeed missed. However, the interweb can also provide theories on how the foreshortened ending does have significance, with the goldfish being symbolic, if one chooses to look for them.

But no matter — it seems churlish to complain about such diversions. Children of Heaven is a beautifully simple and good-hearted film and, apparently, a great way to introduce children to the notion of having to read while watching a film.

4 out of 5

* This is timed from ITV’s broadcast. The listed running time is 89 minutes; with PAL speed-up this would be c.85; hopefully the remaining three are accounted for by snipping the closing credits.

(Originally posted on 6th February 2010.)

Ripley’s Game (2002)

2009 #67
Liliana Cavani | 106 mins | TV | 15 / R

Ripley's GameMatt Damon is back as… Oh, wait, no he isn’t — he’s turned into John Malkovich.

Not quite — there’s no reasonable way Ripley’s Game can be considered a sequel to Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley. Though it’s adapted from a later novel in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series (previously filmed as the Dennis Hopper-starring The American Friend, incidentally), the action is relocated to the present day, and it’d be a pretty hard sell to believe Matt Damon would grow up to be John Malkovich.

Despite the acclaim of Minghella’s effort just three years earlier, and a cast that includes recognisable faces such as a Ray Winstone, Dougray Scott and Lena Headey alongside Malkovich, Ripley’s Game snuck out with barely anyone noticing, including going straight to TV in the US. There are surely reasons for this, reports of a problematic shoot probably among them, but the neglect is undeserved. In 2006, Roger Ebert saw fit to include it in his Great Movies list, though other critics are less favourable (the Radio Times, for one handy example, rate it just three out of five). While Ebert is in my opinion overselling the film by including it in a list of the best films ever made ever, it’s certainly an above average, consummately made, and constantly entertaining Euro-thriller.

Perhaps the difference in opinion about the film stems from one, arguably crucial, sticking point: the Radio Times criticises the humour included in the murders and thriller sections, viewing it as a failure of director Liliana Cavani; conversely, Ebert approves of it, praising them as appearing somewhere “between a massacre and the Marx Brothers”. There’s undoubtedly more to the diverging opinions than this, but it’s at least emblematic. I’m inclined to agree with Ebert: these sequences do have tension — not the most one’s ever experienced in a thriller, but enough — but they marry the humour to it, leaving you chuckling on the edge of your seat.

For the most part the story keeps moving, twisting and turning in sometimes unexpected directions. Other films would happily take the first half-hour or so of this and stretch it to a whole feature, but screenwriters Charles McKeown and Cavani — adapting from Highsmith’s novel, of course, so the credit lies with her — take the premise further and in new directions. It’s not flawless, with the climax by far the biggest let down: Ripley and Trevanny hole up in the former’s villa, preparing for a veritable war as Ripley anticipates goodness-knows how many men to turn up. When it’s only two, it seems more believable than a whole army of mafia goons descending on the relatively insignificant pair, but it’s also distinctly anticlimactic after the hype. Still, at least the story has a final twist up its sleeve.

Malkovich may be a fairly respected actor, but to me he’s always seemed detached, flat, or mannered — often all three. Here, he’s still all three, but it suits Ripley’s unusual character down to the ground. His dry wit and incessant matter-of-fact delivery craft a quietly sinister, stalking nature, aiding the character’s believable unpredictability — that is to say, you’re never certain what he’s going to do next, but when he does it’s not surprising. I’ve never read a Ripley novel (there are five) nor seen another Ripley film (there are four), but Malkovich’s performance fits so perfectly I have little doubt this is precisely how Ripley should be played.

Among the rest of the cast, Ray Winstone is landed with a role he could play in his sleep, Lena Headey is perfectly fine as an unremarkable wife, and Scot Dougray Scott plays a none-more-plummy Brit. Unfortunately this accent sometimes seems to be the main focus of his performance, and it occasionally falters when he gets highly emotional, but it’s not really a problem… though it is rather odd to hear if you’re familiar with how he normally sounds. His character, Trevanny, is primarily a pawn in Ripley’s titular amusement, leaving Scott with only a passing hint of the character arc with which the role could have been gifted.

As noted earlier, there are numerous tales of problems on set, not least the multinational cast coping with a multinational crew in multiple nations, culminating in Cavani leaving towards the end of shooting and directorial duties being fulfilled by Malkovich. But as many have noted before, happy sets can produce dreadful movies and unhappy sets masterpieces, and while I don’t quite share the view that Ripley’s Game is entirely the latter, it certainly errs more in that direction than the other.

4 out of 5