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USA 1999
Directed by
Anthony Minghella
139 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Talented Mr. Ripley, The

Although it is set in the late 1950s, Anthony Minghella's stylish if overlong rendition of Patricia Highsmith’s novel plays more like F. Scott Fitzgerald with Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf its Jay Gatsby and Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley his awestruck Nick Carraway, who has been sent by Dickie’s ultra-wealthy father (James Rebhorn) to retrieve his wastrel son from his lotus life in Italy

Minghella spends the first half-hour laboriously setting up the story, giving us the first suggestions of Ripley’s chameleon character then transporting us to the picturesque climes of Southern Italy (beautifully photographed by John Seale) where Dickie is living with his fiancé, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow).  Production-wise the film is very 1990s in its seamless glossiness and whilst the depiction of the sybaritic lifestyle of la jeunesse dorée is handsomely done with picture-postcard settings and spot-on period style it goes on too long with far too much of Damon a toothily beaming with boyish delight at his new-found friends. Law’s rakish, saxophone-playing charmer and Paltrow’s wittering girlfriend (who is supposedly writing a book, about what we never find out) are also over-exposed.

In fact it takes an hour before anything really happens and the film shifts gear into more plot-driven matters as Ripley embarks upon a complicated game of identity theft, constantly at risk from exposure as his ruse means nothing if he cannot also live the playboy lifestyle. It’s tricky stuff to pull off but Minghella makes it credible with Philip Seymour Hoffman turning up in an engagingly atypical role as another cynically wealthy playboy (on the other hand, Cate Blanchett’s air-headed heiress is too similar to Paltrow’s character).

The most interesting thing about the film is Ripley’s disturbed character to which Minghella adds increasing doses of uneasy homosexuality, eventually making it the centerpiece of the film. Where Ripley starts and where he finishes up are very different places. Damon is very good in the role although one can’t help but wonder if there really could be such a blithe Jekyll-and-Hyde character as his Ripley (John Malkovich provided a much more convincing combination of lethal charm in Liliana Cavani’s Ripley’s Game, 2002)

Although the sleight-of-hand plot paints itself into a corner from which it does not satisfactorily escape, for the most part The Talented Mr. Ripley is a classy addition to the thriller genre.




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