Based on the 1955 novel by Patricia Highsmith, the 1999 thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley was well-received (earning five Academy Award nominations) and served as another stepping stone for Matt Damon to cement his status as an acting star. Here, Alex from Film Forager takes a look at the inner and outer beauty of the film, as well as what drove Ripley mad.
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Gee, I guess we're getting into the long haul now, huh? You've had quite a few days of crazy already, but hopefully you're not weary of it yet because today's entry concerns a lengthy, beautifully shot, impressively cast, lengthy story of obsession, longing, and delusion: The Talented Mr. Ripley. Writer/director Anthony Minghella adapts Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel with a weird-teethed Matt Damon in the title role. Tom Ripley starts off as a polite pianist who works in an opera house lavatory, but with his impressive skill for falsehood and impersonation, he's able to con his way into a free trip to Italy.
He's assigned to reclaim pampered playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and bring him back to New York to work for his wealthy father's shipbuilding business. Upon meeting Dickie, Tom ingratiates himself into his circle of friends- including writer/girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow)- and experiences a finer life than he's ever known while falling in love with his charismatic host. Dickie isn't keen to Tom's romantic intentions and eventually gets sick of his leeching, prompting Tom to take extreme action and set up an elaborate hoax for the outside world. Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman are there too.
This is not a dramatic thriller for the unfocused. Minghella crafts his story very deliberately and gradually, exposing Tom's clinging, obsessive personality with small markers that become more obvious as he becomes more desperate. It starts out as a gay romp (not the homosexual kind [at first]) along the gorgeous Italian coast with a bunch of giddy, spoiled white people who don't even have to work. And it's the 50's so everyone's clothing is impeccable and even heterosexual sex is an act of rebellion. After a lot of sun-dappled scenery and very tan shirtlessness, it begins to becomes clearer that Tom is (a) infatuated with Dickie, (b) insanely clever, and (c) remarkably adept at killing those around him. The slow self-indulgent build-up begins to pay off as Tom's true nature is unmasked.
The elements of "crazy" in this film are extremely subtle, largely due to Damon's performance and Minghella's quiet direction. It is never 100% clear whether Ripley has been calculating certain events this entire time in an effort to completely manipulate and take over another person's life, or is simply acting out of desperation and fear. There is no doubt that he's extremely smart, but his intentions may either be malicious or despairing, and one is left to wonder if it's just his self-preservation winning out over his self-loathing. Despite his questionable motives you're still sort of rooting for him the whole time, mainly because he worked so hard to craft this intricate lie that you'd hate to see it all fall apart.
The Talented Mr. Ripley takes a long time to get going, which is probably its biggest flaw, but give it time and the complex set of relationships, characters, and deadly events will surely captivate. The performances are top-notch (though I've always found Jude Law to be a little boring) and the score effectively combines classical orchestrations and swinging jazz tunes. It works in class commentary, surprise murder, understated romance (Tom and Peter's unspoken infatuation was too cute), beautiful Italian landscapes, and a number of very tense, thrilling moments. It's a pretty good movie.
Tomorrow: I finally watch Apocalypse Now...and then write an article about it.