Friday, 25 July 2014

Movie Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)


A powerful psychological drama about love and obsession among the idle rich, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a gorgeous journey through the darkest corners of the human psyche.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a conniving and talented young man living a lonely life in 1950s New York. A confidence artist and an expert at impersonations and forging signatures, Tom is mistaken for a Princeton graduate by boat tycoon Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn). Herbert takes an immediate liking to Tom, and hires him to travel to Italy to convince Herbert's son Dickie (Jude Law) to give up an aimless life of decadent pleasure and return to the US. Upon arrival in Italy, Tom meets and befriends fellow traveler Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett), and starts to explore the possibilities of his impersonation talents by introducing himself to her as Dickie Greenleaf.

Tom then tracks down Dickie, finding him living at a waterfront villa with girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), and discovers that Dickie is not only a philanderer, but that he also has an expansive and magnetic personality. Tom becomes Dickie's constant companion to the mild annoyance of Marge, and meets Dickie's friend Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who senses Tom's lack of genuine sophistication.

Tom all but abandons the job that Herbert assigned to him, and instead grows increasingly fond of the carefree lifestyle while becoming quite obsessed with Dickie, believing that they should be lovers. His misplaced infatuation results in violence and bloodshed, and a game of hide and seek across Italy that will put all of Tom Ripley's talents to the test.

An adaptation of the 1955 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a feast for the eyes and the mind. Working with a terrific cast, director Anthony Minghella captures a decadent, sun-bathed 1950s Italy where rich foreigners gather to enjoy a life of doing nothing. The exteriors are alive with a sense of constant frolicking, while the interiors inhabited by the likes of Dickie, Marge and Freddie are flush with carefree spending.  Minghella finds a particular highlight in an evening at a jazz club, Tom utterly drowning in the pool of Dickie’s charisma as a club teaming with revelers parties into the night.

The opening hour is a study of the insidious charm of evil obsession. Smart as Tom Ripley is, he finds Dickie’s personality and life irresistible, and ultimately, Tom cannot bear the thought of not being a special member of Dickie’s inner circle. The journey from strangers to potential lovers occurs in Tom’s mind, while for Dickie, Tom is just another interesting character to have fun with when convenient and discard when bored.

Tom’s violent tendencies are sparked by the heat of his growing attraction to Dickie, and once he crosses the threshold from subservient and insidious to dangerously proactive, Tom creates the canvass to put his skills to the ultimate test. His ability to mislead, confuse and obfuscate friends and strangers alike carrying him far towards his dream of joining the rich and idle set.

The second half of the film becomes more frantic but ironically loses momentum. Once Tom embarks on a path of fooling all the people all of the time, the movie takes on a breathless chase and deceit posture, and as a result loses the rich focus on character depth. While it is fun to watch Tom weave a complex web of interdependent subterfuge to try and outsmart the Italian authorities and Dickie’s acquaintances, the film shifts from uniquely intellectual to simply clever.

Matt Damon is mesmerizing as Tom Ripley, his eyes always just hinting at a lot more going on in his head than he really wants to lets on. The rest of the cast is stellar, Gwyneth Paltrow traveling furthest from content girlfriend to accusing victim, while Philip Seymour Hoffman lands a delicious and all-too-brief turn as Freddie Miles, the one man to see through Ripley and call him on it with layers of unspoken sarcasm.

Sucked into a life of luxury and seduction, The Talented Mr. Ripley is devious and deadly.






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