Talented Mr Ripley, The

The Talented Mr Ripley (15)

WHAT is it about Anthony Minghella which makes him one of the few truly erudite directors who doesn’t just make a filmed version of a classic novel, but also improves upon it?

After his Oscar-grabbing run with The English Patient Minghella was considered to have a tough test on his hands: how to best his work on that modern film marvel.

In The Talented Mr Ripley he has at least equalled his work on The English Patient, and draws a succession of great performances from a quartet of the best young actors currently working in movies.

This seductive story of a compulsive liar, fraudster and fake, taken from Patricia Highsmith’s acclaimed novel of the same name, begins with a case of mistaken identity and inexorably transforms into a chilling tale of multiple murder.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a lowly New Yorker who makes his living playing piano for the rich upper echelons of the Big Apple. Mistaken as an impoverished former Princeton student by shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf, Ripley is hired to go to Italy and bring back Greenleaf’s wayward son and heir, Dickie, played by Jude Law.

Handsomely paid and packed off to the Continent, Ripley locates his quarry. But such is the allure of Dickie’s opulent lifestyle – a plush villa, expensive lifestyle and stunning fiancee Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) that Ripley slowly comes to the conclusion that enjoying Dickie’s wealth is more enjoyable than sending him home.

Then, slowly, something takes root in Ripley’s subconscious. Not content with enjoying Dickie’s generosity, he begins to want it all – the life, the wealth, the fast cars and the beautiful woman he cheats on with local Italian senoritas. And as the idea grows, so Ripley embarks on a course of action which will end in madness, lies and death.

Ripley’s is an outlandish ploy and one which cannot work – he begins to impersonate Dickie to Meredith Logue, a young debutante (Cate Blanchett) – yet Minghella’s approach is seductive and persuasive, and his methods psychologically magnetic.

The big question lurking benath the action throughout the movie is: what does Ripley hope to achieve? His deception cannot continue indefinitely and he will surely be found out.

What begins as a fraud becomes a murderous metamorphosis, and it becomes increasingly obvious that the outwardly charming Ripley is not merely disfunctional but utterly deranged.

Damon as Ripley gives nothing away. He inhabits Ripley like a man wearing a suit of clothes, and consequently he is able to shed aspects of his personality – or add to them – like something removing layers of clothing. He is, by turns, naive, charming and friendly, but also creepy and predatory. There is also a latent homosexual subtext floating around Ripley’s desire to become Dickie which is also deeply disturbing.

Minghella paints his picture using all the rich textures he employed in The English Patient – a superlative cast, superb cinematography from John Seale and a cracking screenplay from Minghella himself – but throughout the picture there runs a dark vein of blackness that taints the mood.

This is evident from the opening sequences when Minghella lingers on the theme of misplaced trust as Dickie’s father sees a Princeton blazer badge as a mark of honesty and integrity. All is taken at face value – like Norman Bates in Psycho.

The Talented Mr Ripley, like its source novel, is like a book you cannot put down. It is utterly compelling, totally gripping – a thriller rather than a crime drama, and one which lasts throughout its lengthy 134 minute running time.

It also marks the emergence of Jude Law as a truly international movie star. On the basis of his Oscar-nominated performance, combined with his incredible male beauty, Law could well be the biggest male sex symbol of the 21st century.

And he can act, too.

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