For some, the biggest DVD news this month will be the arrival of Ripley's Game, a European take on one of Patricia Highsmith's Talented Mr. Ripley novels that, despite boasting John Malkovich in the leading role, somehow was never picked up for theatrical distribution. (Instead, it made its debut on cable.)
Probably, some prospective distributors were jarred by the turn the tale takes toward the end, where the murder and intrigue we expect gives way to a full-on action siege sequence. But surely the movie deserves to find an audience, if only for the perfection of its casting. Here Ripley is a fiendish variation on what we suppose Malkovich's real life is like in Europe: Surrounded by meticulously selected artwork, wearing hand-tailored suits, and possessed of complete amorality, this Ripley is not the one played by Matt Damon - but it's easy to believe that the younger man grew into this cold character.
The effect of a woman's love on a screwed-up man is fodder for a zillion stories, of course, and usually the equation works way too smoothly. A couple of recent releases leave some of the rough edges in, without resolving things into a tidy "happily ever after" at the end. Croupier, a small English film that has taken far too long to get to DVD, centers on an aspiring novelist who discovers that you can't just take a casino job in search of material for fiction; sure, you'll find plenty of characters for your book, but being the man who takes so much money from so many sad losers does something to your soul. By the time Jack has the guts to disentangle himself from the roulette-wheel world, he's already put more of his life on the table than he should risk.
I can understand why moviegoers failed to connect with Jane Campion's nasty, pessimistic In The Cut, which wore its ambitions too prominently on its sleeve and let a couple of things escape the editing room that should have died there. But I can't hear that title without remembering what a compelling character Mark Ruffalo was in the film. There's an ugly magic brewing between the screenplay, Campion's attitude toward the character, and Ruffalo himself, that makes you understand why Meg Ryan (whose own performance was probably underrated) would keep getting closer to him despite her suspicions that he's a killer. That doesn't make the movie a complete success, but it does make it more fascinating than many of the blandly workable movies we see each month.
Speaking of which: My attitude toward In the Cut sums up my feelings about practically the entire career of lowlife auteur Abel Ferrara, whose King of New York is being reissued as a big 2-disc special edition with lots of bonus features. In Ferrara's most accessible film, Christopher Walken plays a crime lord just released from a long stretch in prison. He emerges with a predictable urge to expand his criminal reach, but with a new motivation as well: He's going to raise millions of dollars to fund a new hospital in a neighborhood the city has forsaken. He even tries to recruit partners for his philanthropy, drug lords who seem particularly disinclined to care about Walken's version of Jerry's Kids.
King is a fairly rich vehicle for the famously strange actor: Walken gets to strut his dancing stuff a little, gets to smile and be a trash-talking goof every now and then. And of course he also gets to have people killed; there's a ton of macho gang stuff here that probably helped the film's box office but makes it look fairly dated now. Crime will never get old, but sometimes - as Ripley's Game director Liliana Cavani has learned - less is more. •
John DeFore on DVD