To say that composer Ennio Morricone is talented and innovative is something of an understatement and when writing about him it is often difficult to find the words to describe his creativity. By the time Ennio Morricone came to score RIPLEYS GAME in 2002 the Maestro was a seasoned film music composer who had already written hundreds of scores for varying genres of motion pictures. The movie was based on the third book in trilogy of novels entitled RIPLIAD written by Patricia Highsmith. Set in France, Germany and Italy, RIPLEYS GAME is a classy, smooth and sophisticated thriller which focuses upon art connoisseur and harpsichord expert Tom Ripley who also happens to be a master of improvisational homicide and a con artist. Ripley is portrayed convincingly by actor John Malkovich who is supported ably by fellow actors Dougray Scott and Ray Winstone. Ripley, with the help of British gangster Reeves (Winstone) becomes involved in an art scam in Berlin. Reeves is told by Ripley to stay outside whilst he goes into a building to do a deal with a client but things do not go to plan and Ripley resorts to killing this potential customer. He then gives the money that he has got from the now dead customer to Reeves, but at the same time keeps the piece of art work for himself telling Reeves that their partnership is dissolved, which is something that Reeves is not too pleased about. The story then skips three years forward and we see Ripley living a wealthy, privileged lifestyle in Italy living in a luxuriously opulent villa with his beautiful wife Luisa who is a harpsichordist. Ripley and his wife are invited to a party which they are enjoying until Ripley overhears the host Johnathan Trevanny (Scott) making remarks about him and his taste in art and also making references to Ripley’s somewhat shady past, the furious Ripley briefly confronts Trevanny but leaves the party with the matter unresolved. It is at this point the disagreeable Reeves character returns to the storyline asking Ripley for help in dispatching a rival. Ripley recommends that they use an amateur for the hit telling Reeves to offer it to Trevanny, Ripley knowing that Trevanny is suffering from leukaemia and needs money for his wife and family to keep them when he dies. At first Trevanny is surprised and horrified at the offer and turns down Reeves proposal, but then begins to think of the money and agrees to carry out the hit.
Trevanny assumes that this will be the last time he has to have anything to do with the unsavoury Reeves but the gangster has other ideas and blackmails Trevanny into carrying out another assassination, this time however things do not go to plan and Trevanny looses his composure and is nearly killed himself until Ripley comes to his aid and helps to dispatch three mobsters on a train. Trevanny then forms an uneasy friendship with Ripley and returns to his wife and son telling his wife that the money has come from a hospice where he has undergone experimental treatment. The three murdered mobsters associates decide to pay a visit to Italy and attack Ripleys villa. They kill Reeves and throw his body in the boot of their car. However Ripley has anticipated their moves and has set traps for them and picks all of them off with the help of Trevanny who seems to have gotten a taste for killing. Trevanny returns to his home to find that the mobsters have sent henchmen to kidnap his wife and are holding her captive, but Ripley once again has managed to stay one step ahead of the game and after taking Trevanny home spots the mobsters cars in the undergrowth, he doubles back and in the nick of time manages to kill the henchman. One of the mobsters is only wounded and is about to shoot Ripley when Trevanny throws himself in front of the bullet and is fatally wounded.
The movie is a captivating one and has an intelligent and consuming storyline, directed by filmmaker and screenwriter Liliana Cavani ( GALILEO,THE YEAR OF THE CANNIBALS, THE NIGHT PORTER, LA PELLE etc) it is a must see motion picture and stands up well to the test of time and one which I believe has matured and grown even more interesting with the passing of the years rivalling many of the more recent thrillers that have been released. The musical score incorporates harpsichord performances at certain points within its duration, the composer utilising the instrument to accompany the films central figure, it is also a score that is filled with drama and tension, the Maestro masterfully building the atmosphere throughout via his use of strings, brass, electric guitar, woodwind, piano, percussive elements and aforementioned harpsichord which are subtly enhanced by a sprinkling of electronic effects that fuse seamlessly with the conventional instruments of the orchestra to create a score that oozes tension and apprehension but also has at its core highly thematic and melodic material. As with any soundtrack penned by Morricone one is aware almost immediately that we are listening to the supremely innovative work of Il Maestro, a Master of his craft. There is that sound, that style and that individuality present that just says Ennio Morricone.
The score features Morricone’s regular collaborator/performer Gilda Butta on piano and harpsichord, with the composer writing extensively for saxophone and also flicorno performed by Gianni Oddi and Cicci Santucci respectively, both instruments feature throughout the soundtrack and make lasting impressions upon the listener, creating either a mood of melancholy or indeed an apprehensive and threatening atmosphere. One of the highlights of the score is the music for the murders on the train which is split into two cues on the album, PRIMO TRENO AND SECONDO TRENO both cues establish almost straight away an air and atmosphere that is filled with tension and suspense, we hear dissonant brass that is punctuated and paced by an ominous sounding rhythmic background which at times evokes the sound that the composer realised on certain cues within his score for THE UNTOUCHABLES. The opening cue on the compact disc “IN CONCERTO” is actually the last piece of music that we hear in the movie, the harpsichord opens the proceedings and establishes the central melody of the composition, flicorno is added to the mix along with support from the string section which enhances and adds depth and further substance to the piece, the composition builds slowly but steadily as the composer fuses a jazz orientated style with that of baroque. As the piece gathers momentum the composer adds slightly harder sounding and imposing brass and introduces an electric guitar which although subdued adds much to the dramatic content of the movie and creates greater tension within the composition.
With harpsichord all the time being the main stay of the cue forming its foundation and then becoming its core. There are a few pieces within the score that at times sound as if they could be improvised as in COLLAGE DE RIPLEY which has saxophone and flicorno in a duet performance underlined by short and harsh sounding violin strokes which are further supported by submissive percussion. There have been numerous re-issues of scores written by Ennio Morricone in recent years, this I have to say is one of the most welcome and worthwhile.A KRONOS RECORDS release. LTD EDITION.