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talented mr ripley

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999 - R)

An adaptation of Patricia Highway’s same titled novel, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" tells of a troubled man who travels to Europe to confront a millionaire's son, whom he promised to bring back to America.  But when Tom Ripley finally meets the loveable Dickie Greenleaf all bets are off!  Scenic honeymoons through the tranquil seas of Italian shores prove paradise.  Love, lust, and loss ensue in this psychological thriller!

The cast includes: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Written by: Patricia Highsmith (novel) and Anthony Minghella (screenplay).

Directed by: Anthony Minghella.

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Genre: Drama, Thriller.

Tagline: It was a new life at any cost…

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Set in the late 1950’s, a (talented) struggling musician, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is making rent working as a lavatory attendant at an upscale restaurant.  Planning on marrying his beautiful opera singer fiancée and continuing the life of a starving artist, or so we’re told- (remember: words are used as a powerful tool of façade in this film, particularly from our narrator, Tom Ripley) - Ripley’s life does an about face when, after standing in for a scheduled pianist, he meets the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) at some swanky soiree. 

Commenting on his beautiful piano work, Greenleaf notes Ripley’s Princeton jacket and strikes up a conversation about his son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), whom Tom must surely know since they’re about the same age and share the same alma mater.  The lies begin.  First, in an attempt to be discreet, Ripley decides to play along with Greenleaf’s personal inquiry.  However, stakes are quickly raised when Greenleaf implores Tom to bring his son back from his gallivanting in Europe, for the bounty of $1,000.

Agreeing to the job, Tom takes his first class ticket among a private steamer and heads to Italy where, it’s rumored that Dickie Greenleaf is wasting away his Ivy-league education with fun in the sun among the beauteous surf and sand of Italian shores with a blonde belle by the name of Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow).

As it turns out, Marge Sherwood is a fellow American escaping to the more Romantic locales of Europe in hopes of writing the great (American) novel.  Meanwhile Dickie is enjoying lavish living thanks to his weekly allowance, compliments of Papa’s pockets.  After breaking the ice and faking former relations via a shared alma mater, Tom Ripley quickly eases his way into the home and hearth of Marge and Dickie.  Even quicker is the major transformation Tom undergoes as he becomes enrapt with the intoxicating aura of both Italy and the munificent, statuesque, charismatic, perfect Dickie Greenleaf.  Though at first Tom’s infatuation is presumably innocent, and driven from an amiable envy: who wouldn’t want to be Dickie Greenleaf; the “Golden Boy”; Da Vinci’s “David” in flesh and form, eventually Tom begins to take a more homoerotic fascination with his newfound best friend.

Traversing local and far off pubs, cafes, and all other “cultured nuances” of Italy, Dickie and Tom soon become thick as thieves.  Likewise it seems that even Marge has taken quite a liking to the charismatic and cordial Tom Ripley.  All is a blissfull honeymoon for the happy trio.  Meanwhile Daddy Greenleaf’s green bills finance the friendly romps, though no son is yet, or has any chance of ever being delivered.  

But when Dickie’s former friend, Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) makes his way back into Dickie’s life, Tom can’t help but notice how quickly the sun shifts its gaze.  The world has suddenly become a cold, cold place for Tom Ripley.  Soon enough the rambunctious, and rather pricky, mysogynistic Miles convinces Dickie to ditch Tom’s invitations to upcoming affairs.  Obviously hurt, Tom does his best to avoid confrontation, and revealing his personal feelings.  Though Freddie suspects something isn’t quite “right,” he presumes its outrageous jealousy and a sheltered life which has Tom seeming a bit off.  However, Tom’s homoerotic tendencies and emotions begin to surface, stronger than ever, in a desperate attempt to maintain his hold on and the steady gaze of Dickie Greenleaf.

But when Tom and Dickie take a trip to Sanremo in Dickie’s last attempts to say fareweel to former times and fond memories of his and Tom’s friendship, Tom begins to call Dickie out on his seemingly selfish ways.  Arguiong that Dickie is denying his true inner feelings, that he’s selfish and reckless with people’s lives, feelings, hearts, Tom enrages Dickie who rebuffs with ruffled feathers at Tom’s accusations.  A hundred or so miles from shore, Dickie blatantly dismisses Tom’s feelings, and the friendship.  Outraged, Tom begins to fight with the taunting Dickie, who, by the end of the altercation, winds up dead.  A grieving Tom sleeps with his dead love for the better part of the day, all the while pontificating how to dispose of the body.

Noting how much people have often commented how much he looks like Dickie, Tom decides to take advantage of recent circumstances by assuming the identity of Dickie Greenleaf:  so his double life begins,  Meanwhile he evades Marge’s inquiries by staging Dickie’s alleged dumping her to run off to Rome for more Romantic, bachelor ways.  Tom keeps up the delivery of cryptic “Dickie notes” and meanwhile runs up Dickie’s credit cards, assumes control of all his personal belongings, and begins to travel the remainder of Italy under the guise of Dickei Greenlead.  No one suspects a thing, not even socialite Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett) who, upon former introduction with Tom, was told that he was in fact Dickie Greenleaf.  Tom begins a small courtship with Meredith, who believes he’s Dickie.  Fine suits are bought, expensive opera’s are attended, and one lady’s hopes soar.  Meanwhile Tom is suppressing his true sexual orientation, and the pack of lies surrounding the death of Dickie. 

Still, things are rather smooth until Freddie once again re-enters the pictures and suspects things are terribly wrong when he stumbles upon Tom in “Dickie’s” new apt.  Needing to get rid of Freddie before he talks, Tom once again strikes.  But the death of Freddie sparks inquiry from local officials.  Dickie, being Tom, pleads innocence and continues to try and stay under the radar and out of Marge’s line of sight.  Still, Marge tracks Tom down soon enough, and, when she appears in the company of the striking Peter Smith-Kingsley (Jack Davenport), Tom can’t help but try and find ways to be in the companyof the latter.  It seems a new crush Tom has found. 

Soon enough Freddie’s death leads ot the discovery of Dickie’s death, and so Tom’s ride as Dickie must end.  But once Dickie’s corpse is discovered, along with a slew of planted “clues” pointing to Dickie’s suicide (thanks to Tom), Marge begins to suspect that perhaps Tom isn’t as innocent as everyone would readily believe.  Still, in lieu of all the madness Marge is the only one who suspects the dark truth, though no one will listen, including Dickie’s own father who makes his way over seas to thank Tom for being such a dear friend to Dickie and looking after Marge and all Dickie’s stuff.  So it seems Tom will be rewarded for his crimes; Herbert intends to transfer Dickie’s allowance plan into Tom’s account.  One last alteraction with Marge proves that she in deed believes that justice has not been served, though all the men in her life are convinced she’s besotted diwht grief and beyond the capacity for rational thinking.  Even Peter Smith has become engrossed iwht his new romance with the now burden free Tom Ripley.  While the two set sail to better days, once again Meredith Logue strikes.  Popping up at only the most inconvenient of times, Meredith has not yet heard news of Dickie’s death, and so still believes Tom to be Dickie.  In her desperate, mousy way she forces Tom to once again put back on the mask- after Peter sees Tom kissing Meredith he begins to question Tom’s motives.  But will Tom have the nerve to kill off the one man who has finally opened his heart to Tom’s dark life (though he doesn’t know “all” of Tom’s dirty little secrets).  The audience awaits Tom’s decisions as a powerful ending proves that, sometimes the wicked really do prosper…but at what cost?

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a powerful, poignant, and psychological production full of nuance character development.  Patricia Highsmith first envisioned her Mr. Ripley, which Rene Clement’s “Purple Noon” invisioned in Alain Delon.  Here, Minghella casts matt Damon, and sets up a context that shows him as Tom, before he became the “Talented Mr. Ripley.”  The film quickly sets the stage for how and why Tom’s innoncent pack of white lies quickly turn sour and more sinister motives develop as Tom succumbs to 2 of the 7 deadly sins:  envy, and of course, lust.

Enrapt, intoxicated, and overwhelmed by the mythical quintessence of both foreign lands and the picturesque Dickie Greenleaf, Tom’s adoration and envy quickly turn into a deadly obsession.  Of course the more obsessed he becomes the more “talented” he must also become in an attempt to hide his true emotions from acute observers and inquiring minds.  Ironically, the only male in the film that is keen enough to suspect Dickie is Freddie Miles; easily the most detestable character in the film, however carefree and playboy he may be, his self-centered, reckless lack of respect for everything, including himself is appaling:  Philip Seymour Hoffman is solid as ever, and quite convincing in his portrayal.

Likewise, the “blank” Tom Ripley, who paints the canvas of his character with impersonations, fantasies, and the props and products of other lives, is quite impressive.  He is charming yes, but also pitiful, and as such empathetic.  You feel as sorry for him as you are terrified of his perverse plots, his amoral perspective, and his desperation: always a scary trait in any character.  Jude Law is enrapturing and is the perfect combination of playboy charm, snobbish class status (he seems the perfect, crass gentlemen), golden boy, and reckless child.  Just as you empathize with Ripley, you forgive Dickie for his reckless ways, for his selfish tendencies, for his thoughtless actions because, after all, its Dickie Greenleaf:  the perfect manchild; muse to all.  Though, as one critic notes: “the biggest lesson from a film fanatic's point of view is: you don't kill your Jude Law half way through a film unless you leave us in the hands of someone who will make us forget him.”  Then again, perhaps we weren’t intended to.  I believe that Law’s powerful presence was intended to be missed.  If Tom overshadowed Dickie, with his impersonations as Dickie, then the myth of Dickie would be dispelled:  he wouldn’t be larger than life.  People who are larger than life, as Dickie was, can’t be imitated.  One can try, but one ultimately fails.  Tom’s attempt to take on the guise is earnest, and plausible, but to those who knew Dickie best, second rate- artifice is suspected. That is exactly why someone like Law is the perfect cast for this role:  how can you forget that charm, that grin, that skin, and all that string of broken hearts he left trailig behind his tragic death?  You can’t.  Nor can Tom Ripley, try as he might.

Matt Damon and Law are good together.  Though at times there are moments that seem “awkward,” or “uncomfortable,” “unnatural” even, I believe again, its intended to be so.  There is supposed to be this friction between Tom and Dickie: friends, brothers…lovers?  There are several references to Dickie hating confrontation, or being confronted…that he bristles at Tom’s suggestion of his emotional attachment to him on sexual levels only underscores notions that perhaps Dickei was being as reckless nad taking just as much advantage of Tom’s heart as say, Marges.  Then again, only Law’s dimples could make you swoon and forgive so easily.

Likewise Tom’s pitiful character is underscored by Matt’s thin, boyish, weather-beaten frame (he lost 30 lbs for the role), his jaded perspective juxtaposed with this boyish naivete.  His transformation is completely believable, or in the words of one critic, excellent...“When Tom Ripley finally does become The Talented Mr. Ripley, it's unsettling and still delivers a perverse kick. This is terrific moviemaking.”

Let’s not forget Gwyneth’s performance in this film either.  Her role is tougher than perhaps people would like to give her credit for.  She at once has to be both gullible and intuitive: able to be sucked in by lies, and yet skeptical of them as well.  She has to the cut above average human, smarter than your average Jane, yet as susceptible as the next.  One critic calls Paltrow’s performance “multi-dimensional”, “we go through her torment every step of the way.”  Her physical transition, including the ever darkening, and enlarging wardrobe (notice how her clothes turn darker and she wears more and more layers throughout the film: a way of alluding to her building up layers of protection and closing herself off, literally) is remarkable.  Likewise, as one critic notes, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman are also good in small roles, [and] James Rebhorn is dependable.”

“When a filmmaker tries to add psychological depth to what is generally pulp entertainment, it doesn't always work, but Minghella has pulled it off, while keeping it entertaining.”  Enetertaining yes.  Uncomfortable yes.  Psychological, yes.  Pulp, definitely.  This film is a squirmy, perverse, dark look at those desperate character’s in the world who are so eager to assume the more glamorous identity of others, and the extreme measures they’re willing to take to lose themselves in a self-made dreamland of stolen identity and goods. 

It should also be noted that the soundtrack in this film is remarkably good.  The jazz riffs and melodramatic score are uncanny.  A true treat for the film, and more than likeable on their own.  The music not only helps set the stage for, and reinforce the major thematic and character elements of the film (one notes what a tremendous influence Jazz played in both the sketching of Dickie’s character and the plot of the film), it also layers the film with dozens of colors of emotion not apt for expression through costume and stage design.  The music speaks when the characters can’t, and more importantly, the music hints at all those things left “unsaid,” one only need listen carefully and you’ll hear the whisper of dark secrets, the dialog of lovers, and the monologue of an obsessed man.  That my friends, is a great soundtrack. 

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” was nominated for 5 Oscars:  Best Supporting Actor (Jude Law); Best Art Direction (Roy Walker and Bruno Cesari); Best Costume Design (Amy Roth and Gary Jones); Best Music, Original Score (Gabriel Yared); Best Writing (Anthony Minghella).  In addition the film garnered another 8 wins, including: BAFTA’s

award for Best Supporting Actor (Jude Law); Broadcast Film Critics’ Award for Best Score (Gabriel Yared),  and the National Board of Reviw award for Best Director (Anthony Minghella) and Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  The film also received a whopping 51 nominations.  Among its more prestigious nominations were  the Writer’s Guild of America award for Best Screenplay (Minghella), Edgar Poe Award for Best Picture, and 5 Golden Globe Nominations; Best Director (Minghella); Best Picture (Minghella); Best Original Score (Yared); Best Actor (Matt Damon); Best Supporting Actor (Law).

Main Characters:

Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Marge Sherwood.

Jude Law plays Dickie Greenleaf, “sunshine boy.”

Cate Blanchett plays Meredith Logue.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Freddie Miles.

Jack Davenport plays Peter Smith-Kingsley.

James Rebhorn plays Herbert Greenleaf.

Memorable Quotes:

“The name Greenleaf opens a lot of doors…”

Dickie:  “Everybody should have one talent.  What’s yours?”

Tom Ripley:  “I always thought it was better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.”