How far would you go to be someone else? If there was someone better looking, wealthier, cooler... what would you give to be them for one day? Actually, forget one day. What would you give to have their life? In Anthony Minghella's "The Talented Mr. Ripley", based on Patricia Highsmith's classic suspense novel, our protagonist is presented with this tantalizing opportunity, and makes the wrong choice.Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a step up from being nobody. He is a piano tuner at Princeton, and lives a shabby lifestyle. He is a mystery man, everyone sees him, yet nobody knows who he is. When wealthy businessman Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) mistakes Tom for somebody else, Tom is handed a ticket to Italy, and given a small task: To persuade Herbert's son, Dickie (Jude Law) to come back to America. When Tom meets Dickie and Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow), his beautiful fiancée, he believes that he has entered a whole new world, filled with jazz, culture, money, and everything else that Tom never had. As time goes on, that dream that Tom has longed for is threatened by Dickie's arrogant personality and hurtful affairs. As an act of self-defense (and rage), Tom brutally kills Dickie. Now, Tom is desperate to make sure that this way of living stays with him, while not getting caught.
"A powerful and disturbing thriller."
Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") should be recognized as a quality director. His use of color and cinematography is moody, unsettling, and impeccable. Unlike many other filmmakers, his choices always work. In one haunting shot, Ripley closes the cover of a piano. As he steps away from it, his reflection splits into two, illuminating his split personality. His screenplay of Highsmith's novel is terrific. It is filled with horror, light humor, exhilarating drama, and beautifully crafted exchanges. His taut script never loses sight of morbid places it has to go, and the point it has to make. He also throws in some fascinating, sexual undertones between Dickie and Tom.
In his best performance ever, Matt Damon ("Good Will Hunting") is absolutely mesmerizing in the title role. At first, the audience sympathizes with Ripley, given his meek personality and underwhelming existence. As the film goes on, we follow Ripley through his journey, as he evades his friends, and the police. Damon's Ripley is shy, clinging, lonely, and pathetic. A sad character. Through all of the bad things that he does, and all of the lies he tells, we still have no choice but to follow him. And that is because we understand, if not agree, with his motivations.
As Minghella himself once said, the most spoken word in the screenplay is "Dickie". It seems that, throughout the film's two and a half hour running time, all of the characters are fascinated with Dickie. It's the name on everyone's lips. Jude Law ("AI: Artificial Intelligence") exudes self-importance, class, and undeniable sexuality. Dickie is an abusive rascal and playboy, but we can't look away from him. Gwyneth Paltrow ("Shakespeare in Love") is brilliant as Marge, Dickie's long-suffering fiancée. Marge, like Tom, goes through a long and damaging journey. When she realizes that Dickie is missing, Marge is not sure exactly what to think. She likes Tom, so she doesn't really suspect him. Throughout the film, her thoughts shift back and forth, until she comes to a startling conclusion. In one heartbreaking moment, Marge approaches the door of Tom's apartment. She thinks that Dickie is in there, and she says: "Whatever it is you've done, you've broken my heart. That's one thing I know you're guilty of." It is a wonderful performance, one that was ignored by virtually every awards group.
Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth") lights up her brief screen time as Meredith Logue, a spirited debutant. While Meredith does love Tom (actually, she is under the impression that Tom is Dickie), it never occurs to her that she is only a cog in Tom's little game. Finally, Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Magnolia") is appropriately slimy as Freddie Miles, Dickie's best friend. Freddie might be a bit of a bastard, but he is one of the more honest characters in the film. Freddie knows that something has happened to his friend, and he's not going to stop until he finds out what.In a scene with Peter Smith-Kinglsey (Jack Davenport), a concert pianist and friend of Marge, Tom says: "I've always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody, than a real nobody". This is what the film is all about, and this is what the audience must decide on. The eerie and atmospheric score is provided by Gabriel Yared, the arresting cinematography by John Seale (practically a dreamy showcase for Italy), and the smooth editing by Walter Murch. These elements, combined with a stellar cast and Minghella's talent, form a masterpiece. This is a powerful and disturbing thriller, one that I will not soon forget.
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originally posted: 12/18/04 06:02:08