The Talented Mr. Ripley

Directed by Anthony Minghella
Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief nudity.

Review by Matt Heffernan
December 30, 1999

In 1960, René Clément made Plein soleil (a.k.a. Full Sun or Purple Noon), based on Patricia Highsmith's popular novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. How he got the rights instead of Hitchcock is beyond me. If The Master had made it at the same time -- the peak of his talent -- instead of Psycho, Anthony Minghella would have been forced to find a different follow-up to The English Patient, and Gus Van Sant wouldn't be such a bad guy.

In New York around 1960, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is playing piano at a society event. Wealthy shipbuilder Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) sees his Princeton blazer, and asks if Tom knows his son, Dickie (Jude Law). Actually, Tom is filling in for a friend, and borrowed the jacket. He is a lower-to-middle class guy who works as a restroom attendant and piano tuner, but is quite proficient at passing himself off as others. He claims to have known Dickie, so Herbert sends him too Italy, all expenses paid, to go retrieve his absent son.

When he arrives at the Italian town that Dickie is staying, Tom meets him and his fiancée Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Dickie obviously doesn't remember him, but Tom is so charismatic and convincing, that he is welcomed into their little group. Almost immediately, Tom starts imitating Dickie, who is living the life he yearns for. He even manages to pass himself off as Dickie with Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett), a textile heiress who is also escaping to Italy. Tom has now built a massive web of deceit, and things are not going to end peacefully.

Minghella does an incredible job of taking this complex story, with all its discontinuities, and making sense of it. The characters are very complex, and Damon and Law give excellent performances. The Talented Mr. Ripley is not as extreme in its peculiarity as other films this year, but for an international thriller it is quite extraordinary.

And oh, how Hitch would have loved making it. It starts out with normal character development, and then somebody sticks a knife into the plot and twists it around. Add in Paltrow (easily today's Grace Kelly) and you are in Hitchcock territory all the way. Unfortunately, it's Minghella at the helm. He has the raw ability, but not the style to pull it off perfectly, and the resulting film is not as tight as it should be. This was a project that he should have put off to later in his career.

Well, this wraps up my last review of the year. There are a few more award contenders that I haven't seen yet, but their reviews will have to wait until January. I must say this is a pretty good film to end the millenium on -- Galaxy Quest nearly brought up the rear. Happy New Year all, and I'll see you in Y2K.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

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The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) -- VHS
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The Talented Mr. Ripley, a novel by Patricia Highsmith -- Paperback
The Talented Mr. Ripley, a novel by Patricia Highsmith -- Audio Cassette (read by Michael Hayden)
The Talented Mr. Ripley, a screenplay by Anthony Minghella -- Paperback
The Talented Mr. Ripley: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan