2 items from 1999
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" has got it all: sleek looks, tense drama, exotic locales, pulsating music and, most importantly, full-blooded characters whose thoughts and deeds -- some quite evil -- compel your excitement and involvement.
This is one of the year's finest films with near flawless performances by its "Talented" cast. As a follow-up to the acclaim and clutch of Oscars writer-director Anthony Minghella received for "The English Patient", this film has the look of a huge hit.
The film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, some of whose works became Alfred Hitchcock films and whose novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley" served as a basis for "Purple Noon", a fairly good 1960 French-Italian thriller starring Alain Delon and directed by Rene Clement. Minghella has now gone back to the novel to expand certain characters, broaden the scope of the story and deepen its characters' motivations and emotions.
He has also altered a tiny plot detail that turns the character of Dickie Greenleaf from an aspiring artist into a musician and jazz aficionado. This not only gives "Ripley" a hot soundtrack (courtesy of Gabriel Yared) but causes music to drive the story.
Although tightly written with an economy of style refreshing in these days of self-indulgent screenplays, the film feels like a jazz riff. Actions appear improvised; major plot developments happen in an off-the-cuff manner that catches you by surprise. This makes a terrific MO for a murder thriller.
"Ripley" is essentially the story of a man who is a born liar, whose lies create the need for bigger and bigger lies until people's lives are forever destroyed.
It all begins during the late 1950s when Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is mistaken for a Princeton grad by wealthy New York shipbuilder Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn). He recruits the young man -- indeed offers him money -- to sail to Italy where his wastrel son Dickie (Jude Law) is happily at play with his current fiance Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). There he wants Ripley to convince Dickie to return to the family bosom.
Within minutes of meeting the couple on a sunny southern beach, Ripley realizes the impossibility of such a task. So he alters course: he decides to adapt Dickie's lifestyle as long as the father's money holds out.
Dickie and Marge introduce the continental novice to "la dolce vita," the sailing boats, jazz clubs and night spots that all merge into one nonstop party. Things go swimmingly until Dickie tires of Ripley.
On a outing in a small motorboat, Ripley makes the serious mistake of revealing his true affection for Dickie, which Dickie rudely rejects. In rage, Ripley crushes Dickie's skull with an oar. After covering up the murder, Ripley returns to shore where he assumes Dickie's identity -- and the steady flow of his inheritance.
Establishing himself in Rome, Ripley is about to get involved with another wealthy American, Meredith (Cate Blanchett), when his past catches up with him as Marge and Dickie's fellow wastrel, Freddie Philip Seymour Hoffman), turns up. That means more deceit, more guises and, eventually and inevitably, more murder.
The question of identity haunts this movie. As young, rich Americans kick around the continent to discover themselves, Ripley, a poor working-class stiff, turns this philosophical pursuit into a bloody business. Yet his crimes play such havoc with his identity that he must ask a male lover, moments before slaying him, to please tell him something good about Tom Ripley.
One can commit the perfect crime -- or at least get away with one -- yet be forever locked out of one's self, doomed to dwell in the dark basement of one's misdeeds with a glorious house beckoning but unreachable.
Damon, playing a character who must play several, is the master of all his characters. You see his mind shift gears as he works from one personality to another. He is so disarming that his crimes shock himself.
Law, a British actor not well-known here, catches every nuance of spoiled hedonism overlaying the kind of spiritual darkness one often encounters in F. Scott Fitzgerald's fiction. His is a larger-than-life performance that might have dominated the film had his character not been so forcibly removed.
Paltrow's loyal, wise and understanding Marge is Dickie's soul mate. She understands him well enough to be the one person not taken in by Ripley's lies. And Blanchett is extraordinary, revealing more about her character in a simple facial movement than most actresses do with reams of dialogue.
John Seale's cinematography, Roy Walker's production design and Ann Roth and Gary Jones' costumes are all a triumph. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have locales ranging from Venice and Rome to Naples and Palermo to work with, but all of these have just the right period details. The romantic backdrop this provides underscores the nastiness of the foul deeds perpetuated in such an earthly paradise.
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films presents
a Mirage Enterprises/Timnick Films production
Producers: William Horberg, Tom Sternberg
Screenwriter-director: Anthony Minghella
Based on the novel by: Patricia Highsmith
Executive producer: Sydney Pollack
Director of photography: John Seale
Production designer: Roy Walker
Music: Gabriel Yared
Co-producer: Paul Zaentz
Costume designers: Ann Roth, Gary Jones
Editor: Walter Murch
Tom Ripley: Matt Damon
Marge Sherwood: Gwyneth Paltrow
Dickie Grenleaf: Jude Law
Meredith Logue: Cate Blanchett
Freddie Miles: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Peter Smith-Kingsley: Jack Davenport
Herbert Greenleaf: James Rebhorn
Inspector Roverini: Sergio Rubini
Alvin MacCarron: Philip Baker Hall
Running time -- 139 minutes
MPAA rating: R
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The vampire myth, so endlessly exploited by the cinema since its very beginnings, receives a polished postmodern sheen in this latest variation, a slick British effort starring Jude Law as a contemporary, yuppified prince of darkness and Elina Lowensohn as his intended victim.
This version gives us a well-dressed, good-looking vampire, Steven Grlscz (Law), who, just like the rest of us, has trouble sustaining a romantic relationship. "The Wisdom of Crocodiles", due for a theatrical release from Miramax, recently played at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Steven is a successful engineer with a fabulous apartment who comes under suspicion by the police when his girlfriends keep showing up dead. Still, Steven is so helpful, so well spoken, that Inspector Healey (Timothy Spall) can hardly believe that he had anything to do with the crimes, especially when Steven rescues him from a gang of marauding thugs.
Meanwhile, a new woman comes into the picture: Anna (Lowensohn), a successful, beautiful and asthmatic engineer -- her ailment is clearly used for symbolic purposes -- who presents an emotional challenge for Steven.
The use here of vampirism as a metaphor for modern relationships is a bit tenuous, and Paul Hoffman's screenplay doesn't really develop the idea very far. Neither does the film work on a strictly horror-film level; with one or two brief but memorable exceptions, "The Wisdom of Crocodiles" keeps the carnage and bloodletting offscreen.
To the degree that the film succeeds at all, it is because of the charisma of its stars, and the slick, atmospheric direction by Po Chih Leong. Lowensohn, no stranger to vampire sagas herself -- she played one in memorable fashion in "Nadja" -- brings real depth to her role as the frustrated Anna, and Law is both compelling and sympathetic as the romantically challenged Steven.
Spall makes the confused cop something more than the usual screen caricature, and Kerry Fox makes a brief but memorable appearance as one of Steven's unfortunate conquests.
THE WISDOM OF CROCODILES
Credits: Director: Po Chih Leong; Screenplay: Paul Hoffman; Producers: David Laschelles, Carolyn Choa; Executive producers: Scott Meek, Dorothy Berwinn; Director of photography: Oliver Curtis: Editor: Robin Sales; Original music: John Lunn, Orlando Gouch; Production designer: Andy Harris. Cast: Steven Grlscz: Jude Law; Anna Levels: Elina Lowensohn; Inspector Healey: Timothy Spall; Maria Vaughn: Kerry Fox; Detective Roche: Jack Davenport. No MPAA rating. Color\stereo. Running time -- 99 minutes.
2 items from 1999
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