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The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) – Movie Review

Talented Mr. Ripley

Written and Directed by Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith
Starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett

My Advice: Wait and rent it.

Tom Ripley (Damon) is a nobody living in a sub-basement apartment, until the day he’s mistaken for a schoolmate of Dickie Greenleaf’s (Law) by Dickie’s father (James Rebhorn). Dickie apparently is living the bohemian life over in Italy, playing at being a musician, and also playing at being a boyfriend to the lovely Marge Sherwood (Paltrow). Tom’s well-paid assignment is to go to Europe and convince Dickie to come home and presumably take up the family steel business. But Dickie has no intention of doing so, and contrives with his newfound chameleon friend Tom to wring more money from his father. In the meantime, Tom has found that he really likes Dickie’s lifestyle, not to mention Dickie himself, to an obsessive perhaps unhealthy degree.

[ad#longpost]This is a finely-acted, long and drawn-out anti-thriller. Instead of reaching to Hitchcockian heights of suspense and wonder, we are instead bogged down with a Tom Ripley that is more Alex Forrest than Norman Bates. The Fatal Attraction parallel really struck home when Tom cuts himself offhandedly with a blade while facing off with another character, just like Glenn Close did when talking to Michael Douglas. Unfortunately, that wincing moment is the only scene in which there seems to be any tension at all. There’s never any wonder as to whether or not Tom’s going to off someone, nor is there every any edge-of-your-seat postulating as to whether or not he’ll get away with it.

Back in college I had a professor who tried to explain to me that in Mad Dog and Glory, the characters played by Robert DeNiro and Bill Murray were more interested in each other than in the character played by Uma Thurman. I wonder what she thinks of this film, in which the two female interests, Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, are basically relegated to the background. Tom is much more jealous of Dickie’s friend Freddie (the always terrific Hoffman) than he is the girlfriend Marge.

There’s nothing wrong with homosexual undertones, but when they’re poured on with abandon to the point where they become the focus of the film (the term is under-tone for a reason) and not the supposed point of the genre (yes, it’s billed as a thriller), then you’ve got a problem.

Apart from a decent performance from a cast who’s not really given anything to do, the only things to recommend here are a great turn by Hoffman and probably the most disturbing head wound of 1999. But not even such a couple of promising plusses can save this from a slow pace and a film that just doesn’t live up to the potential of its central plot. There’s really nothing to make this big-screen-worthy, so I suggest catching it at home in a couple of months.