Talented Mr. Ripley, The

Poster
1999
Anthony Minghella

9/10 (slow; implausible)

This is where Matt Damon proved that he’s got actual chops. So not only is it a must-see for Damon’s awesome performance as an uncomfortable, socially awkward psychotic, but it’s actually a pretty solid suspense film with a great cast as well.

Damon plays Tom Ripley, a social nobody who is mistaken for a Princeton alum at a fancy party one night and (improbably) implored by millionaire Herbert Greenleaf to go to Italy in order to persuade his son Dickie (Jude Law) to return home and take over the business. He goes, ingratiates himself into Dickie and Marge´s (Gwyneth Paltrow) lives, and has to work around his troublesome acquaintanceships with Meredith (Cate Blanchett) and Dickie’s suspicious friend Freddie Miles (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).

He goes from nobody to Dickie’s best friend in no time, but his emotional and financial dependence soon begins to wear on the volatile Dickie, and things get bad, dead body bad. The ensuing game of cat and mouse between Ripley, Marge, Freddie, Meredith, Herbert and the Italian police takes up the latter half of the film.

If the awesome cast and incredible performance by Damon doesn’t already have you convinced that you need to see this or give it another shot, there’s the fact that it was shot almost completely in location in Rome and Venice, so the photgraphy is breathtaking throughout. There’s also the fact that Minghella (“The English Patient,” “Cold Mountain”) is a rather competent director, so with the material he’s able to craft a supremely tense, uncomfortable psychological thriller.

Watching Damon’s Ripley leaves you squirming, mostly because he’s genuinely creepy but also because you’re afraid he’ll get found out. It’s this sympathy for a psychotic killer that makes the film truly special. Minghella, through excellent writing and directing, elicits it unwillingly from an otherwise moral audience. It doesn’t happen too often if you think about it. The entire experience is fascinating for that reason alone.

It’s a little too long, which I understand was probably meant to increase the tension. Really it just wore on me. And as I’ve already hinted, the plot is rather fantastical, so you can’t take this as a very realistic piece of film-making. Nor is it meant to be.

It’s still well worth the watch, either as an acting clinic or as a tense, morally ambiguous film experience, or as both. If you’re an intelligent film fan, I highly doubt you’ll regret seeing this.

3 April 2010

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