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Talented Mr Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley has on paper the formation of a discordant choir of production specialists, casting Matt Damon against type as a twitchy psychopath; scripting from a Patricia Highsmith novel (Hitchcock adapted her Strangers on a Train most successfully in the 50s); photographed by the typically lush John Sealle; and directed by none other than Anthony The English Patient Minghella.
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|Add five Oscar (R) nominations, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett as supporting characters and a woefully inappropriate Australian television advertising campaign -- implying that the film is a slasher movie of cheap thrills when it is most certainly not -- and you get a product in the midst of a blurred mixture of expectations, assumptions and reactions.
Against the odds, the film fits together quite nicely by its completion, with a lingering closing sequence that you can sense Minghella has been building towards only after its completion. A dry, laid back and quietly calculating suspense movie, The Talented Mr Ripley plays a constant mind-wrestle with its audience, instigated by its protagonist who remains an enigma of sinister possibilities that lurk behind the innocent face of Matt Damon.
The story is told entirely through the perspective of Tom Ripley (Damon), to the extent that no scene is without him. Tom frequently pretends to be somebody he is not, enforcing the films central theme of the human desire of wanting to become someone else (*flashback* -- Being John Malkovich). It is only until much later that Tom is forced to impersonate another person, to conceal his identity as a killer who may or may not strike again. Throughout the movie there is a sense that he is digging himself a deeper and deeper hole to fall into, but whether or not he gets buried is another question. Without implying that he does or does not escape justice, allow me to state that this picture has a warped sense of morality (who is good? who is bad? who will be punished and who will be rewarded?) -- and that goes for every character. The results are surprising.
The prologue of The Talented Mr Ripley explains that Tom, a low-class wannabe musician, is offered $1000 (and this is 1950s currency) by wealthy shipbuilder Herbert Greenleaf (the familiar, what-is-he-from James Rebhorn) to travel to Italy where his son Dickie (Jude Law) is located, and bring him back home to the US. Naturally, Tom accepts the offer. When he meets the charismatic but inconsiderate Dickie, he is instantly attracted to his flamboyant lifestyle of music, women and the beach. Dickie, however, is not all fun and games -- Dickies girlfriend Marge (Paltrow) is especially aware of his tendency to break hearts -- and Tom is not all innocence and responsibility. Leave the two alone for awhile, and conflicts arise.
Jude Law, last seen in Cronenbergs Existenz and favorably surviving in my memory for his near-poignant performance in 1997s Gattaca, gives the film real bite in his pivotal role as Ripleys object of jealousy. He takes a long leave from the screen and never comes back, so the majority of the film rests squarely on Damons shoulders. He gives an unexpectedly mature performance, and a highly convincing one, but not the kind of performance that you'd want to watch, scene by scene, for a 142 minutes. I'm not sure that the choice of focusing so extensively on Ripley was a wise one, as it leaves at least a couple of supporting actors -- namely Gywneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett -- looking like they are waiting for something to happen. Paltrow is solid as the character who first sympathizes with Tom then later comes to suspect him, and Blanchett pops in out as the script pleases without saying or doing much of importance.
The most dramatic moments are deliberately downplayed in favor of a constant tone rather than quick scares, so dont expect anything too confrontational or frightening as Minghella likes to ease us unto his important scenes. Much of his focus is given to Ripleys efforts to impersonate a man he murdered whilst maintaining his own identity. Not the kind of physical impersonation found in, say, Mrs. Doubtfire, Ripleys impersonation is mostly based on paper -- signing checks and withdrawing money, writing fake letters, that sort of stuff.
The second half of the film drags somewhat, as Ripley is left to his own devices and excuses and alibis, and Minghella drives the film mostly by dwelling upon the formalities of becoming somebody else rather than what it feels like and what, if anything, is achieved. By doing so, he runs the risk of distancing viewers and even boring them -- the film would have felt a little cleaner and snappier had the editing been tighter. Minghella, who also adapted the script, took a fair few liberties when transferring the novel to the screen (Cate Blanchetts character didnt exist, and Ripleys first murder was intentional rather than mostly accidental), but that is not unusual for Patricia Highsmith stories, as Hitchcock also took numerous liberties for Strangers on a Train. One of arts pleasures is the ability to re-invent itself, and that is also very risky ground. Anthony Minghella and his discordant choir ultimately pull it off -- stylishly and a little sluggishly.
On the Buckmaster scale of 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 3 stars
Review © copyright Luke Buckmaster
Read more of my reviews at In Film Australia http://infilmau.iah.net
Due for Australian release February 24, 1999
For credits and official site details, see below
See also: Matt Damon also appears in Good Will Hunting; Paltrow also appears in Great Expectations; Cate Blanchett also appears in Elizabeth
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