VOD film review: The Talented Mr Ripley
James R | On 28, Sep 2019
Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow
“I always thought it was better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody,” admits Tom Ripley (Damon) in Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr Ripley. The disturbing, charming, ruthless and clever antihero is certainly one talented individual. His talent? Being any other individual he chooses.
Ripley is hired by a shipping magnate to go to Italy and bring back his son, Dickie (Jude Law), who is off enjoying his father’s wealth. Once there, though, he becomes infatuated with Dickie and his glamorous life, and he immediately begins to covet it. Things, naturally, take a dark turn and soon, Tom is impersonating Dickie, cashing cheques and inserting himself into his luxurious expat existence.
It’s an obsession that doesn’t go unnoticed by Dickie’s fiancée, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow – just the right blend of self-absorbed and suspicious), or fellow American Freddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman – just the right blend of sleazy and sleazy). But while there is suspense in guessing when, where, how and even if Ripley’s game will ever be exposed, the real fascination lies in the complex nature of Tom’s obsession.
Ripley’s chameleonic crime isn’t merely a question of envy or greed. It’s also bound up in a whisper of homosexuality, a quiet longing for acceptance, an unspoken desire to be somebody important. Matt Damon delivers the best performance of his career in the role, teasing all of these elements of Ripley’s fractured psyche without ever giving the game away. He’s a puzzle that draws us in, as he no doubt wants to; Highsmith’s page-turner is a hugely enjoyable read, as it dares us to sympathise with this monstrous shadow of a person, and Damon’s performance latches on to a script that dares to open Tom up even further still. It’s a more vulnerable interpretation of the young con man, compared to Alain Delon’s version in 1960’s Plein Soleil, and you wonder whether that vulnerability is itself a front to lure in another unsuspecting victim, played by Jack Davenport in the movie’s final third.
Damon is matched brilliantly by Jude Law, who sinks his gleaming white teeth into the part of the vain trust fund kid – a man whose obsession with himself is the only thing more poisonous than Tom’s obsession with him. He, like Ripley, has dark edges that he chooses to hide by being extravagant and colourful, and the film’s gripping appeal lies in the fact that we can’t quite tell which of two deserves our sympathy more.
Minghella films the whole thing with sun-drenched panache, diving into jazz bars and sweeping along the Italian coast. The lavish style of the 1950s only emphasises the attractive pull of Dickie’s carefree lifestyle, a lifestyle that prizes surface appearance over all else – and is undone by precisely that.