This stars John Malkovich and Ray Winstone (both terrific), Lena Headey (interesting) and – as the hero, in the role Bruno Ganz made his own in The American Friend – a horribly miscast Dougray Scott (just TERRIBLE).
The direction is by Liliana Cavani, who made one notable film (The Night Porter, which I haven’t seen) and just one that I have seen: Francesco (1989), with Mickey Rourke as St Francis and Helena Bonham Carter. (It was the strangest viewing experience of my life, in an open-air cinema in Mytilene Town, Mytilene (Lesbos) in 1991, dubbed into Greek! We were the only people there…) It’s at best pedestrian.
What makes it worth seeing – as well as the performances – is the script by Charles McKeown, who is a Python hanger-on, having scripted 3 Terry Gilliam movies (including Brazil and The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen) AND the recent John Cleese sitcom Hold The Sunset. A strange mix with Ripley, you might think, but he gives Malkovich and Winstone a stream of one-liners (example: Malkovich in Act 3 when he’s waiting for the killers to arrive and has just hung up on Headey, who’s the wife of Scott, but doesn’t want Scott to know who was on the phone: ‘Never give a friend financial advice!’).
Why does Highsmith, who has a very dry-to-non-existent sense of humour, inspire writers who do one-liners (exhibit B: The Cry Of The Owl, 2009)? Is it because her situations are so good, but she’s a second-division writer, who needs something more?
(There’s one problem with the plot: surely Malkovich wouldn’t allow Headey to live, knowing what she knows about him?)
Malkovich makes this a comedy, so you don’t feel remotely sad when Scott dies ‘heroically’ – just eager for the next one-liner…
Ennio Morricone did the score, which makes much of the fact that Malkovich’s wife plays the harpsichord, and is indeed preparing for the climactic concert in Vicenza in Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico – which complements nicely the enormous palace where Malkovich lives in the film: the Villa Emo in Fanzolo.