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The Talented Mr Ripley

September 11, 2010

The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
Director: Anthony Minghella
Actors: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow

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Synopsis: Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a socially dysfunctional loner with a talent for impersonation and improvisation, inveigles his way into the life of rich US playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law).

Review: Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr Ripley” packs a heavyweight punch (there’s a starry cast, it’s an expensive looking shoot in an impeccably period-detailed New York and Italy, and the running time is epic), but to carry the boxing motif a little further – it lacks subtlety and nuance, and looks to land its (cerebral) blows a touch too readily.

The film’s saving grace is that it is sensationally acted – with Jude Law and Philip Seymour Hoffman in particular revelling as a convincingly privileged Princeton pairing – and there’s a whole host of cracking support players papering over the minor fringes of the story: Cate Blanchett, James Rebhorn, Jack Davenport and Philip Baker Hall to name but a few.

Unfortunately, though the narrative rattles on entertainingly enough, The Talented Mr Ripley is awfully plodding as a character study. It’s only right that in a sense Tom Ripley is meant to be a cipher, but the plot propels him far too arbitrarily in its opening segments to his meeting with Dickie Greenleaf. There’s a lot of unconvincing shorthand storytelling (Ripley lives in an unlikely grotty NYC basement and blindfold guesses jazz songs to get him up to speed) and there’s copious examples of the inelegant wording of the film’s core themes in voiceover: “if I could rub myself out”, “I’d rather be a fake somebody, than a real nobody” etc. And even though I’m a huge fan of Matt Damon – and he certainly gives a very game performance in portraying the gawky/opportunist dichotomy of Ripley – I can’t help but think a more naturally studied, ambiguous and steely presence might have made for a more interesting conduit through the film’s murky journey. (March 2008)

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