MUBI UK film review: Plein Soleil
James R | On 29, Sep 2019
Director: René Clement
Cast: Alain Delon
Watch Plein Soleil online in the UK: MUBI UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Tom Ripley is no stranger to film lovers – despite the fact that this is exactly the opposite of what he’d want. The calculating, cunning, ruthless con man is an expert at being other people and avoiding identification, a mix of qualities that has seen him portrayed on screen multiple times, from Dennis Hopper in The American Friend and John Malkovich in Ripley’s Game to Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley. The most iconic interpretation of Patricia Highsmith’s antihero, though, is undoubtedly Alain Delon, who brings Ripley to life in 1960’s Plein Soleil.
Damon’s Ripley is likely the one that most UK viewers are familiar with, and it’s a class act, balancing murder by necessity with a surprising vulnerability and a hint of homosexuality. Delon, on the other hand, is far colder and keener, a quick-witted interloper who has effectively already planned out his first homicide and identity theft before it occurs. The incident may be all at sea, but he’s never not looking ahead at what’s on the horizon. Delon, who is one of cinema’s all-time cool heartthrobs, is perfectly cast as the smooth criminal, with his handsome features offset by a cool, detached stare.
He fixes that stare on Dickie Greenleaf, the wealthy son of a businessman who pays him to go to Italy and bring the wayward boy back. Played by Maurice Ronet with a suave womanising streak, he has no interest in returning home with his old friend, and so he and Tom hang out, living off his father’s allowance – a taste of a lifestyle that leaves Ripley plotting how to get a piece of it for himself by taking Dickie’s place.
One bedroom scene gives us a glimpse of Tom intimately imagining his ploy a success, but Delon gives him a removed, enigmatic quality that makes him fascinating to watch, especially when Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge, is in the frame, eyeing him suspiciously.
The tension lies in seeing how Ripley can repeatedly evade detection just in time to prevent his capture – and René Clement’s gorgeously atmospheric thriller makes an impact by leaving us wondering, perhaps for the first and only time, whether his plan might not be as plain sailing as he thinks.