The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

reviewed by
Homer Yen

`The Talented Mr. Ripley' Shows Promise but Ultimately
by Homer Yen
(c) 1999

If you've seen or heard some of the nominations from various film critic societies around the country, then you probably know that this movie has been mentioned for a couple of reasons. Many applaud the gorgeous cinematography and the strong performances of the cast. Even within my esteemed group of online film critics (The Online Film Critics Society), there is general agreement that `Mr. Ripley' should be remembered when Oscar nominations are announced. Yet, while the buzz surrounding this film is generally good, I'm actually puzzled as to why this film is getting so much praise. My feelings for this film are decidedly mixed, although it's one of the best-looking average movies I've seen this year.

Mr. Ripley of the title is Thomas Ripley (Damon), a person who seems to be skilled in many areas although he works as a bathroom attendant. For example, he can speak in other people's voices with alarming accuracy. And, he's a pretty good pianist. After a particular recital, a man approaches him. The man sees that Ripley is wearing a Princeton-emblazoned jacket. He asks if he graduated from Princeton and if he knows his son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), since they are the same age. Of course he is just a lowly attendant and the jacket is borrowed, but to hide his true identity, he says yes. The man, who is a shipping magnate, hires Ripley to travel to Italy where Dickie currently lives. His task is to convince him to come home.

Dickie is quite a character. He has tons of charisma, which is in part to his good looks, his elite taste, and his wealth as the son of a shipping magnate. Dickie's world is tremendously lavish. He has a terrific, hilltop bungalow. He spends his afternoons on his sailboat. And he frequents the best clubs in town. Ripley arrives and manages to successfully blend into Dickie's life and meet some of Dickie's friends. These include fiancée Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) and, a well-connected partygoer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Up this point, which is about 45 minutes into the movie, I am really enjoying how Dickie's and Ripley's friendship are evolving. But all of a sudden, Dickie and Ripley don't see eye-to-eye anymore. Dickie becomes bored with Ripley. And Ripley doesn't want to give up this newly acquired lifestyle. At about this point, the film moves away from being a glossy drama, and becomes decidedly dark and inexplicably bloody. It was as if the film started out in one direction, and then made a sharp right turn.

Any praise for this film should be directed at Damon's nice performance and the terrific cinematography. The film takes place in wonderful locations throughout Italy. The camera skillfully catches the romance and beauty of beach towns, the awesome architecture of Rome, and the quaintness of other small villages. It was certainly enough to make me want to visit Italy sometime in the future. Every scene is handsomely shot while the sets are opulent, and certainly would make many of us envy the Dickie Greenleaf lifestyle. But despite all that it strives to be, the beauty of the film was only skin deep.

As I left the theatre, I was reminded of a recent film called `A Perfect Murder.' Ironically, it also starred Gwyneth Paltrow as a distressed woman who suspects that foul play is in the air. That production was undeniably glossy, and the performances were solid. But, it felt oddly empty. `Mr. Ripley' is slightly glossier and has slightly better all-around performances. Yet, it still felt oddly unsatisfying. I think that the problem is that once the film abruptly changes direction, the audience's expectations have been ruined. And that's too bad, because the outset of the film oozed with potential.

Grade: C+

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