While "The Talented Mr. Ripley" may not quitequalify as a masterpiece of suspense, it certainly is the most skilled,engrossing homage to Alfred Hitchcock in ages.
Directed by Oscar winner Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") with many nods to themaster of subtle, upscale thrillers, this picture boasts gorgeous, Italian seaside locations; layers of romantic Machiavellian intrigue; honest-to-goodnesssurprises that unfold before your eyes; a goose-pimply, Bernard Herrman-inspiredscore (by "Patient" composer Gabriel Yared); and a glamorous,talented cast that could give Hitchcock's favorite players a run for their money.
Jude Law ("eXistenZ,""Gattaca")plays Dickie Greenleaf, a handsome, trust fund playboy, living large onfather's dime in an idyllic coastal village.
Gwyneth Paltrow (today's Grace Kelly) is Marge Sherwood,his beautiful, expatriate girlfriend.
And Matt Damon gets to stretch his acting muscles as TomRipley, a wildly deceptive hanger-on who conspires with psychopathic determinationto insert himself into Dickie's life, and discard forever his working classbackground.
Of course, as with any good Everyman suspense story, itbegins with a stroke of chance: Back in Boston, Tom is mistaken for a Princetonalumni by Dickie's blue-blooded father (James Rebhorn), an error he quicklyexploits when the father offers him a all-expenses-paid trip to Italy,where Tom is to persuade Dickie (also a Princeton man) to come home.
Once in Italy, Tom befriends Dickie and Marge, but -- asthe audience begins to slowly realize -- Ripley is not the kind of heroicEveryman who finds himself in over his head in such movies. He's obsessedwith infiltrating every corner of Dickie's existence.
It's an obsession that soon becomes a twisted kind of unrequitedlove affair with deadly consequences when Dickie gets bored with Tom'scompany and tosses him aside.
This is the most shaded performance of Damon's career,full of enigma and subtle revelations that come to haunt the other charactersas Tom spins a precarious web of deceit after Dickie disappears, then beginsto assume his life -- which is really all Tom craved in the first place.
But Dickie's boorish pal Freddie Miles (Philip SeymourHoffman) isn't buying the cover story. He's never trusted the sycophantTom in the first place, and it's not long before Marge becomes suspiciousas well.
Then there's the beautiful socialite Meredith Logue (CateBlanchett) -- a girl Tom has convinced he is Dickie -- who becomesa threat to his escalating deception, leading him toward even more drasticmeasures as he resolves to hang on to his newfound existence.
Minghella's doesn't have quite a firm enough grip on hiscommand of the suspense in "Ripley," so the movie never completelyengages the audience's adrenaline. There's also a few times you may findyourself second guessing Tom Ripley when he fails to take the path of leastresistance as he covers his tracks. But Minghella spins a captivating yarnnonetheless, so you'll still be more than willing to go along for the ride.
The director adapted the script from the 1955 novel byPatricia Highsmith -- whose "Strangers On a Train" became oneof Hitchcock's most disquieting classics. He has embellished a bit (forexample, the homosexual undertones are far more amplified than they werein the book), but he wisely still staged the story in the late 1950s, allowinghim to develop an even more acute Hitchcockian atmosphere, infuse the filmwith a dollop of delicious jazz music, and put Paltrow and Blanchett insome stunning dresses.
There's been a lot of Academy Award buzz for "TheTalented Mr. Ripley." I don't think I'd rank it in the Oscar-calibercategory, but taken for what it is -- an attempt to revive the spirit ofTechnicolor Hitchcockian noir -- it's aces.
By the way, if you're the compare-and-contrast type, youmight want to note that Highsmith's novel was filmed once before in 1960as "Purple Noon."