Anthony (The English Patient) Minghella has adapted Patricia Highsmith's thriller, The Talented Mr Ripley, and given it all the sumptuous production values of a prestige epic.Book and film are propelled by anti-hero Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), who covets the lifestyle of the young, rich, Americans travelling idly through Europe during the 1950s. Ripley becomes so adept at insinuating himself into these privileged lives, that by the end of the film he no longer knows who he really is. Minghella accentuates this bleak twist at the film's conclusion; Highsmith focused on the thriller aspects - Ripley's ingenuity at outwitting the Italian police, and outsmarting the social set (thankfully retained in the film). You can't help but wish Ripley success, and Damon appealingly characterises him as both underdog and outsider. The film is predicated on the existence of an American class system, based on wealth. Ripley - whose background is obviously poor (it's spelt out more in the book) - can never be fully accepted into this world.
The film is astutely cast. Jude Law features as the magnetic, but loathsome, Dickie Greenleaf whom Ripley is sent to Europe to fetch home. Cate Blanchett practically steals the film as a spoilt, unhappy American in search of love overseas. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a snob, who is repulsive but recognisably human enough to inspire shock at his fate.Some of the film's sequences are paced too leisurely, and Minghella's directorial touches alternate between the heavy-handed and inspired. But he combines the ingredients of The Talented Mr Ripley beautifully. Deserving of special note are Gabriel Yared's haunting score, John Seale's cinematography and the art direction/set decoration of John Fenner, Stefano Ortolani and Bruno Cesari.