The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

reviewed by
Michael Dequina

_The_Talented_Mr._Ripley_ (R) *** 1/2 (out of ****)

The big surprise of the year-end awards season has been the strong showing by this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, written and directed by Anthony Minghella. The raft of accolades is somewhat understandable; this '50s-set thriller is certainly one of the most laid-back suspense films I have seen in recent years, and its pleasures are accordingly unconventional. The chief strength is how the film slowly seduces rather than relentlessly prods the audience, lulling it into its spell--much like how the title character, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), eases his way into the good graces of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law, in a star-making turn), whom Tom is paid (by Dickie's tycoon father, played by James Rebhorn) to drag from his new home of Italy back to the United States.

As Tom gets to know Dickie, his friendly girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow), and their carefree, jazzy lifestyle, he falls in love with his newfound best friend. When Dickie's attention to him starts to wane, and it becomes clear that his affection cannot be reciprocated, Tom uses his talent for impersonation and forgery to have Dickie's life as his own. Needless to say, myriad complications are in store, not least of which is an ever-elongating line of dead bodies. But this is no traditional, exploitative thriller, and the understated--but no less violent--way in which Minghella depicts the murders succeeds in genuinely unsettling the audience rather than giving them a cheap shock.

There is a bit of a problem in the center of _The_Talented_Mr._Ripley_, and that is Mr. Ripley himself, adequately played by Damon. Minghella has taken great pains to make him a rather sympathetic character (unlike in René Clement's 1960 French adaptation of the novel, _Purple_Noon_(Plein_Soleil)_); Tom here is a gawky, insecure young man whose underlying motivation for killing is his frustration with having to hide his "true self." The problem is that one never gets a sense of who this person is since he's seen in an act of impersonation (to one degree or another) right one from frame one. With no clear idea of who the real Tom Ripley is, it's hard to completely feel for him--a task which is already difficult considering all his victims are, indeed, innocent. Nonetheless, Minghella's film is, overall, an effectively disturbing work.

Michael Dequina | | | Mr. Brown's Movie Site: CinemaReview Magazine: on ICQ: #25289934 | on AOL Instant Messenger: MrBrown23

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