The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
Anthony Minghella's follow-up project after The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley seems to have slipped under the radar compared with that film. It's certainly not perfect, having issues with a weaker second half and a weird yet oddly heartbreaking ending, as well as being a bit too long, but it is a well-acted, well-written, and well-filmed movie that is definitely worth a view and probably should have gotten a bit more attention. Matt Damon gives a great leading performance, one of my favourites of his actually, and he is accompanied by one of my favourite ensemble casts, making for an entertaining and fairly unsettling movie that is well worth watching.
Have you ever wanted to be somebody else? Chances are, you have at some point in your life. Well, so does Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a young man who works as a washroom attendant and sometimes piano player to make a living in 1950's New York. He borrows a Princeton jacket for a concert and is approached by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn), who thinks that Tom actually went to Princeton and thus knows his son, Dickie (Jude Law). Greenleaf pays Tom a hefty sum to go to Italy to try and convince Dickie to come home. Dickie has been living off of his trust in Italy for years with his girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), shirking his responsibilities in the family business for a life of no responsibility and just being a spoiled rich brat.
Tom goes to Italy and is welcomed by Dickie and Marge, who have no idea why he is there until he tells them. Dickie is still accommodating to Tom and we get the slight sense that Tom may feel something more than just friendship for Dickie (although it is pretty much certainly one-sided). It is these homoerotic undertones that make the film's first half very interesting, seeing Tom become a very unsettling character by leeching off of Dickie and seeing his sexual attraction towards someone who doesn't love him back. In fact, there is a rather creepy scene where Dickie walks in to his room to see Tom trying on his clothes, although it's mostly made creepy by the music. The undertones are made /clear when Tom and Dickie share a bath (Dickie thinks that they are doing this like brothers do as children, Tom thinks otherwise). This can also serve as a reason why they really upped the sex appeal and charisma of Jude Law's character. Not that I'm saying Jude Law isn't already sexy, but it is amplified 100% in this movie. Don't believe me, look at the picture at the bottom of the page.
It is at this point in the film where we see that Tom not only is in love with Dickie, he wants to be Dickie. He notices that Dickie is beginning to tire of his constant presence and dependency, and an unfortunate altercation on a boat ends with Tom striking Dickie with an oar, eventually killing him. After being mistaken for Dickie by a hotel concierge, Tom gets the bright idea to assume Dickie's identity. However, he looks nothing like Jude Law and Dickie has people that would miss him and question his absence, so we know that Tom's disguise cannot last forever. Marge begins to suspect of Tom's behaviour, as does Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Freddie is a character briefly featured in the first half, who treats Tom with obvious contempt (possibly because Miles wants Dickie for himself). Miles confronts Tom at "Dickie"'s Rome apartment and knowing Miles would expose Dickie's murder, Tom kills him too.
END OF SPOILERS
I don't want to reveal anything more, but there are two characters that I did not talk about in the synopsis that serve a purpose in the story. The first is Peter Smith-Kingsley (Jack Davenport), Marge's friend who becomes Tom's new lover by the end of the film. The second is Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett), the daughter of a textile mogul who meets Tom at a luggage pickup in Italy. She does not know him as Tom Ripley because he introduces himself as Dickie. The last incident of the movie involves Smith-Kingsley and Logue, but I don't want to give away the ending for you as it is one of the most confusing and fascinating endings of all time. However, both of the characters are interesting in their own right and they are well-acted by Davenport and Blanchett (although they are not the best performers in the movie).
Matt Damon embodies the character of Tom Ripley perfectly, turning in one of his best and most underrated performances. A lot of people who saw this movie find Tom to be sympathetic, and I don't think he is. I think he is a deeply disturbed man with some identity and self-esteem issues who idolizes Dickie both sexually and as a person (not that Dickie is a model human being either, but we'll talk about him later). He also idolizes the glamour surrounding Dickie, and he says in the movie that "I'd rather be a fake somebody than a real nobody". This is how Tom sees himself, and he'd rather be Dickie, who is a real somebody, than his little insignificant self. Mr. Damon's performance was excellent, at times being slightly disturbing, and definitely worthy of a Best Actor nomination, which he did not get (granted, he still would have lost to Kevin Spacey, but a nomination would have been nice nonetheless).
The second performance that I really loved was that of Jude Law as Dickie, who got an Academy Award nomination for his work (losing to Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules). I find Dickie a tad bit more interesting just in terms of the glamour surrounding him and how Ripley comes to idolize him. Dickie is a free spirit, who leaves New York to be out from his father's thumb, free to spend his trust and dick around (pun definitely intended) however he likes, being ruled by nothing but his daily whims. That's why nobody would really be surprised if Dickie disappeared, because Dickie is flighty and it would totally be within his nature to disappear. There is a magic and like I said, glamour, surrounding this lifestyle, which is what attracts Tom to Dickie in the first place (that and the fact that he is absolutely smouldering). Roger Ebert's review said that Law makes his character almost deserving of his fate, but I don't really think that's true. Dickie definitely exhibited some sociopathic tendencies, but what I said in this paragraph aside, Dickie was basically a spoiled brat who lashed out at the wrong person. Jude Law's performance was absolutely brilliant, and was the most acclaimed performance in the movie for a good reason. He embodies the sexiness, charm, and nuance of Dickie perfectly, making for another grey-shaded character (one of many in this movie).
Gwyneth Paltrow gives a very good performance in this movie (that's saying something, considering that I am hardly her #1 fan), as does Philip Seymour Hoffman and they are just two of many great supporting characters that complement (but don't overshadow) Damon and Law. The film got an Oscar nomination for art direction (losing to Sleepy Hollow) and it was definitely deserved, as the Italian scenery is very well-utilized (getting some decent cinematography out of the settings as well). The movie is well-filmed on all levels, but a definite issue that I have with the movie is that it is about twenty minutes too long. Some may also dislike the ending, as it is one of the most interesting and depressing endings of any of the movies that I have seen.
Flaws aside, The Talented Mr Ripley is one of the more underrated films of the 90's, and one definitely worth watching. It is extremely well-acted on all counts (especially from Matt Damon and Jude Law), has some finely shaded characters, and solid production design (as well as an awesomely creepy soundtrack, which definitely adds to the unsettling nature of the film). I would give this film a very strong recommendation, especially for those of Minghella's critically acclaimed The English Patient (which I haven't seen, but would like to see). In short, it's not perfect, but it is an interesting and oddly thought-provoking movie that is well worth a watch.
|I mean come on, no wonder all the men in the movie want him|