3 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
The crowd-pleasing, relatively lightweight closing-night film of the dramatically uneven 52nd Cannes International Film Festival, "An Ideal Husband" is a late-19th-century romantic comedy based on an Oscar Wilde play. The upcoming Miramax release has solid boxoffice potential with adult audiences.
Cate Blanchett and Rupert Everett headline the small but fine cast allowed to pitch the material at an involvingly brisk pace under the light-handed direction of Oliver Parker ("Othello"). Lushly mounted but largely a chamber piece, "Ideal Husband" concerns the efforts of eligible bachelor Lord Arthur Goring (Everett) to preserve the marriage and career of his friend, politician Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam).
Married to Lady Gertrude Chiltern (Blanchett), Robert is blackmailed by devious Mrs. Cheveley (Julianne Moore), who possesses knowledge of a secret in his past. She wants his support for an expensive boondoggle, knowing that Gertrude will be devastated if she learns Robert deceived her in any way.
The privileged lives of the upper crust leads are shaken by forged notes, conversations overheard by the wrong parties and shocking revelations. While Robert struggles with his conscience, Cheveley sets her sights on becoming Lady Arthur Goring. Unaware of the simmering scandal, Arthur's Father John Wood) encourages the reluctant bachelor to choose a wife.
Robert's sister Mabel (Minnie Driver) also has a crush on Arthur, but he is tempted by Cheveley's seductive final offer and wrongly assumed of betraying Robert before things get sorted out in the happy ending.
Underplaying the character but looking fabulous in formal wear, Everett stands to gain the most from such a plum role as he embodies the kind of wily but impossibly well-groomed rogue to which one's attention naturally gravitates. The scenario's most resonant, serious emotional material is reserved for Robert and Gertrude's marital crisis when she realizes he's not the ideal husband and waits to see how he resolves the threat posed by Cheveley.
Blanchett, Driver and Moore are well-cast and look great in Caroline Harris' costumes. Filmed on location and at Leavesden Studios in Herts, England, "Ideal Husband" is an evocative re-creation of the times, thanks to the luxurious production design of Michael Howells ("Ever After").
AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Icon Entertainment International presents
a Fragile Film in association with Icon Prods.,
Pathe Pictures, the Arts Council of England
Writer-director: Oliver Parker
Producers: Barnaby Thompson, Uri Fruchtmann, Bruce Davey
Executive producers: Susan B. Landau, Ralph Kamp, Andrea Calderwood
Director of photography: David Johnson
Production designer: Michael Howells
Editor: Guy Bensley
Costume designer: Caroline Harris
Music: Charlie Mole
Lady Gertrude Chiltern: Cate Blanchett
Lord Arthur Goring: Rupert Everett
Mrs. Cheveley: Julianne Moore
Sir Robert Chiltern: Jeremy Northam
Mabel Chiltern: Minnie Driver
Lord Caversham: John Wood
Running time -- 97 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
Responsible for 7,000 flights a day, coming up with dozens of quick decisions and never making a major mistake -- they are air traffic controllers, the FAA's defenders against "chaos in the sky." In "Pushing Tin", John Cusack's aggressive, controlling, competitive lead character marks another solid outing for the actor, and co-star Billy Bob Thornton is commanding as his rival in the tower.
But pushing middle-of-the-road material, director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Donnie Brasco") brings no special flair to the storytelling, and the 20th Century Fox release will have trouble filling planes in its theatrical flight schedules.
Younger moviegoers will probably book trips elsewhere, but the cast may attract adult women and couples, and the film should wing into friendly ancillary skies.
Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett is a bit tentative but otherwise successful as Cusack's contemporary American wife. Rising star Angelina Jolie exudes sex appeal but has little else to do. Like two gunslingers with an audience, Cusack and Thornton dominate the movie, based on Darcy Frey's 1996 New York Times Magazine article. The talky, jargony screenplay is credited to "Cheers" co-creators and TV veterans Glen and Les Charles.
Nick Falzone (Cusack), Top Dog at New York's Terminal Radar Approach Control Center, is a fast driver and fast talker with an art student wife, Connie (Blanchett). One day, motorcycle-riding loner Russell Bell (Thornton) reports for duty, and Nick starts a rivalry that eventually includes infidelity and crazy, death-defying antics on the runway.
With a mysterious past and loose-cannon reputation, Russell is married to sultry, bored Mary (Jolie). From showing up Nick on the basketball court to handling job pressure with a shrug, Russell is a quiet, meditative guy but too macho to let serious challenges go unanswered.
Nick's losing control of his life because of his irresponsible actions, and his obsessive behavior gets potentially ugly when he sleeps with Mary and breaks up with Connie. He loses his cool and his job, while Russell is the hero when a bomb threat clears the building and he leaves town with Mary to diffuse the tension.
A climactic moment of bonding between Nick and Russell on the tarmac is the blustery payoff that finally takes the edge off the former, but for long stretches, the film is more a glorified sitcom than engaging cinema. Numerous special effects shots of jetliners seem oddly out of joint with the visually ho-hum movie.
20th Century Fox
Fox 2000 and Regency Enterprises present
a Linson Films production
Director: Mike Newell
Producer: Art Linson
Screenwriters: Glen Charles, Les Charles
Executive producers: Alan Greenspan, Michael Flynn
Director of photography: Gale Tattersall
Production designer: Bruno Rubeo
Editor: Jon Gregory
Costume designer: Marie-Sylvie Deveau
Music: Anne Dudley
Nick Falzone: John Cusack
Russell Bell: Billy Bob Thornton
Connie Falzone: Cate Blanchett
Mary Bell: Angelina Jolie
Barry Plotkin: Jake Weber
Vicki Lewis: Tina Leary
Running time -- 123 minutes
MPAA rating: R
3 items from 1999
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