Saturday 3 March 2007

The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) Anthony Minghella

I knew The Mysterious Yearning Secretive Sad Lonely Troubled Confused Loving Musical Gifted Intelligent Beautiful Tender Sensitive Haunted Passionate Talented Mr Ripley, to give the film its full title, starred Matt Damon, so I'd successfully avoided it before now. I know he's an Oscar winner but that was for a screenplay, so hardly indicative of his acting ability. He was nominated for that too, for the same film, but then again Marky Mark and the Funy Bunch as nominated too, so I can safely ignore that as well. Yet here he is, surrounded by a whole slew of names I had no clue were associated with the film. Had I known I'd have seen it earlier.

It's directed by Anthony Minghella, who made The English Patient, and he also wrote the script, which is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, author of such other filmed novels as Strangers on a Train. It might star Matt Damon as Highsmith's regular character Tom Ripley, as compared to someone as truly talented as Alain Delon, who played the role in 1960 in Purple Noon, the first version of this novel, but there are other real actors here. How about Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Jack Davenport for starters, and then add Philip Seymour Hoffman as well. Suddenly Matt Damon is a little forgiveable.

The transitions during the title credits are as annoying as Ripley's canary yellow swimming trunks in the first scene that he meets Dickie Greenleaf, but everything else is solid. He's been sent to Italy by Greenleaf's very rich father to bring him home, as all he does is spend his father's money, play jazz and sail his boat. Jude Law is a superb Dickie Greenleaf, half human and half rich playboy brat. He is truly at home in the playboy lifestyle while not having a clue how to be anything else, while Tom Ripley seems acutely uncomfortable in his role.

The thing is that it's all an act, as is everything that Ripley does, because Ripley is a chameleon. He reminds me in many ways of Theresa Russell's title character in Black Widow. Incredibly talented, as the title suggests, his chief talent is becoming other people. He researches every detail, picks up any talent required and takes on their personality. At the beginning of the film he takes the part of a pianist who has broken his arm, just for one appearance, but he obviously has the will to make it work for a much longer period. Needless to say he fails to persuade Dickie to come home, so becomes Dickie instead.

The script is pretty tight and I'm sure the novel is, but I don't buy Matt Damon in the role. Talented or not, I just don't see how Damon's version of Tom Ripley could have kept things going the way he does. I don't see how everyone around didn't see his obvious slew of issues. That lapse of judgement on everyone's behalf aside, Law is superb, Paltrow and Blanchett solid, Hoffman awesome and Davenport not bad at all. That leaves Damon seriously letting the side down. Now I want to see other Ripleys: Alain Delon (Purple Rain), Dennis Hopper (The American Friend) and John Malkovich (Ripley's Game) especially.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your review is spot on. I watched the film years ago. Law is amazing. Damon as the introverted outsider is fine, but he is completely unconvincing as the chameleon Ripley. IMO the roles should have been reversed. Law should have been Ripley and (maybe) Damon Dickie (though if so, the Dickie role would have to be revised).