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Movies E.C. McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
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THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY - 1999
Miramax Films / Paramount Pictures
Ratings: USA: R

For the past decade Anthony Minghella has, both in writing and direction, honed his talents into creating tear jerky romantic movies. Now he comes along and switches gears rather dramatically with THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. A tense, spooky thriller with little romance at all: How can a romantic writer and film maker succeed in making a suspenseful thriller? Very well it seems.

Based on the 1955 novel of the same name by the late Patricia Highsmith (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN), Minghella makes wise use of the book's romantic locales, set in the late 1950's to weave his magic.

And magic it is.

When we first meet Tom Ripley (Matt Damon: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, DOGMA) he is playing piano in a small concert whose main attraction is the singer. Ripley is in the background where, we come to discover, he has been all his life. After the intimate show is over a Mr. Herbert Greenleaf (HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE, CAT'S EYE, THE HOUSE ON CARROLL STREET), impressed by Tom's musical talent and even more by the fact that he is wearing a Yale jacket, tries to befriend Tom. In the process, Herbert's real goal is to enlist Tom's aid in retrieving the wealthy Greenleaf's son from Italy. Right away we get a peek into Tom's character when we see that, though he admits to knowing Dickie, he doesn't. What's more, he is not from Yale, the jacket is borrowed, and he never confessed to it. But we also forgive him because he is a smiling, charming young man who appears eager to please. Who wouldn't tell the white lie for a chance to make some good money and go to Europe?

Tom learns all he can about his target, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law: GATTACA, eXistenZ), by taking a crash course in jazz music as he sits huddled in his cold and tiny basement apartment. By the time he meets up with Dickie in Italy, he has told several white lies in passing to just about everyone, including a joke to a passerby about him being Dickie Greenleaf himself. What Tom has no concept of, is just how important and influential a name Greenleaf is. Among the jet setting beautiful people of 1950's Italy, it is nearly impossible to hide when you are one of the fabulously wealthy.

Tom befriends Dickie with his studied knowledge of Jazz music and its artists, which Dickie mistakes for a true love of the music. Soon Tom is living with Dickie and his fiancee, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow: MALICE, FLESH AND BONE, SE7EN). Soon both are asking his advice and revealing their most intimate natures to him and it is easy to see why. Tom appears to be fascinated by everything Dickie and Marge do. Such attentions are welcome - at first. After awhile though, Tom begins to wear out his welcome. Thoughts of returning Dickie to the U.S. are now gone for Tom, as he'd rather stay in Italy and be a jet setter too. The rub is, Dickie can afford to be rich because he is, Tom is not.

Tom Ripley is written in the movie, as little more than an empty shell without a past or apparent family. We can empathize with his yearning to finally be somebody. But then Tom starts employing other tools, light deceits and suggested blackmail, and though still entranced with him, our flawed hero is now most certainly an anti-hero.

Tom slowly sets into motion the social mechanics that will make Dickie and Marge break up, in the hopes that Dickie will come to rely only on Tom. Unlike lonely Tom and his imagined world however, Dickie's life is full of friends who sail in and out of it most unexpectedly. Dickie and Marge both begin to realize that Tom is up to something no good, though its hard to say just what. Then at one deciding moment, Dickie realizes that Tom is sexually attracted to him. Dickie starts putting major distance between himself and Tom, but he doesn't want to totally disenfranchise him, Ripley knows too many of Dickies' dirty secrets.

An old friend in the form of Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour: MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, RED DRAGON) begins taking up Dickie's time and Tom starts to behave like the jilted lover. The wealthy and clever, but tasteless and boorish Freddie, is soon wise to Tom as well and Merry Mishaps Occur.

We watch this tale unfold and unravel as we learn that Tom Ripley, once a sheep among the sheep, is now a wolf among the flock. His quiet, friendly, and almost introverted nature leave both the characters of the movie, and we the audience, unprepared for the things he will do; the atrocities he will commit; to have and keep this wonderful life he has discovered. There are characters we cannot wait for Tom to finish off, and there are characters whom we never want to be victimized by Tom. What's worse for Tom is, he finds himself having to constantly work, and hide, and scheme, and plot, and fear, just to hold on to something that is not his and never will be. The wonderful life he briefly enjoyed is gone, but he cannot accept it. In so doing, Tom comes to hate himself throughout his struggle. All his lies come back to haunt him whether he is the poor schmuck Tom Ripley, or is pretending to be the wealthy expatriate Dickie Greenleaf.

The tag line for the movie calls Matt Damon's character A Fake Somebody and a Real Nobody and the title fits perfectly. Matt Damon yet again gives a stunning performance as do Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law.

The fact that Director/Screenplay writer Anthony Minghella moves this murder / thriller through the atmosphere of a romantic place only heightens the tension and suspense. The beautiful locations and the magnificent Cinematography (John Seale: CAREFUL HE MIGHT HEAR YOU, THE HITCHER) both delights and make us uneasy. Just as we see the traps being set for the people in the movie, so we realize that all the beauty and joy in the film is yet another trap for us. One to keep us offguard and unsuspecting right to the chilling end. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY gets all five Shriek Girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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