Stage set for showdown with Miramax

Roll up for the battle of the Ripleys.

Fine Line Features has committed to a $12 million version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel “Ripley’s Game,” in direct competition with “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” a $45 million pic that Anthony Minghella is set to direct for Miramax Films.

“Ripley’s Game” is the third in Highsmith’s series of books about the amoral antihero Tom Ripley, while “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is the first. Both pics are set to shoot this fall, and will be racing to get into the cinemas first.

“Ripley’s Game” will be directed by first-time British helmer Tim Fywell, with Rupert Everett lined up to co-star. It will be produced by Ileen Maisel’s Baby Prods., and exec produced by Mike Newell (who was originally attached to direct) and Alan Greenspan.

It’s understood that Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein had previously offered the producers of “Ripley’s Game” $800,000 to delay their project until after “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and then to pitch it as a sequel. But this offer was rejected.

Both Ripley books have already been made into arthouse movies. “Ripley’s Game” is based on the same story as Wim Wenders’ “The American Friend” (1977), while “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a remake of the 1960 French classic “Plein soleil” (“Purple Noon”).

In “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Matt Damon plays the title character, an American outsider living in Europe. The film starts his career of misdeeds when he murders a rich boy (Jude Law) to assume his identity.

“Ripley’s Game” catches up with him a couple of decades later — married, living near Paris and wealthy from his criminal activities. Needing an assassin to kill two rivals, he enters a Faustian pact with an upper-crust English picture framer who’s dying of leukemia and needs the money for his family. Ripley has yet to be cast, but Everett has expressed interest in the part of the picture framer.

Fine Line has optioned the screenplay of “Ripley’s Game” and intends to move the project into production this September, on location in France and Hamburg. Fine Line Intl. will distribute the pic in foreign markets.

Camela Gallano, the London-based exec VP of Fine Line Intl., brought the project into the company. Fine Line president Mark Ordesky says, “This is an exciting piece of material with terrific international cache. Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley character is known throughout the world, and we look forward to working with this talented British team to deliver an exciting film from this great source material.” He refused to comment on any rivalry with the Miramax movie.

This is Fine Line’s second commitment to a British project within a week. The first, Hat Trick’s “Sleeping Dictionary,” is a $10 million film written and directed by another feature debutante Guy Jenkin.

The “Ripley’s Game” deal was negotiated for Fine Line by Sara Frith, senior VP of business affairs, and for Baby Prods by Duncan Heath and Lyndsey Posner of ICM.

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