The Talented Mr. Ripley Movie Review

Few enough people know that The Talented Mr. Ripley is based on Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel of the same name. Fewer still know they already made one movie about Mr. Ripley, a little French number called Purple Noon (1960). (Even fewer have seen the Ripley study called The American Friend (1977).)

If you happen to be one of a handful who has seen Noon, The Talented Mr. Ripley is retreading old ground. It's actually different. In fact, it's very different. So much so that with the exception of a few brief scenes and the overall theme, these two films could be based on different source material. What's really astonishing is that both are excellent films.

Tom Ripley (Damon) is introduced innocuously enough. He's a New York piano player/maintenance worker/bathroom attendant who, after borrowing a Princeton-crested jacket, suddenly finds himself propelled to Italy in search of Dickie Greenleaf (Law) at the behest of Dickie's father (Rebhorn). Tom arrives soon enough, finding Dickie living the slacker dream, sailing, drinking, and carousing -- when he's not spending time with steady girl Marge (Paltrow).

Ripley's plan to emulate Dickie is apparent from the start, but it isn't until free spirit Dickie inevitably pushes the clingy Tom away that Ripley figures he'll take over Dickie's life altogether. Then the fun really starts.

Matt Damon plays a sociopath with uncanny -- and quite spooky -- ease. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Tom Ripley become a recurring antihero -- like a Hannibal Lecter should be. Highsmith wrote five books about Mr. Ripley, so there's plenty of source material to work from. Sequels or no, Damon is so dead-on scary that Hollywood likely shudders to be alone with him.

[] Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand, is fairly useless in her role. For starters, she vacillates between her standby British accent and her plain-old Gwyneth voice, neither of which really fit her character. Worse is that she has little to do in the film but often go hysterical, which doesn't help the movie. Before you Paltrow fans hit the "Send Hate Mail" button, try not to forget Gwynny's performance in dogs like A Perfect Murder, Great Expectations, and Hush. It's just too bad she had to muck up a perfectly good movie like this one.

Jude Law and the rest of the supporting cast, particularly Hoffman as a boorish American friend who shows up midway through the movie, are good or great. The music, dominated by period (1950s) jazz songs, is also well-suited for the disturbing thematics of the movie. And let's not forget director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), who captures the beauty of Italy while coaxing some great performances from his actors.

On the sour side, Mr. Ripley's homosexual themes are awkward at best, and a few plot points (mainly Ripley setting up his alibi) seem to have been lost to editing, despite a 2:30 run time. As a thriller, this may seem long, but the mood is perfect and the film rarely drags. Altogether, it's a grand psychodrama. Perfect, you know, for the holidays.

Tons of extras on the DVD, including commentary from Minghella, trailers, interviews, and more goodies. Highly recommended.


The Talented Mr. Ripley Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1999


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