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The Talented Mr.
It isnt hard for the average moviegoer to
understand what it is that drives the title character of The Talented Mr. Ripley to
murder: the sight of Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow cavorting through the movies
Italian locations is enough to make any schlub wonder where his life went wrong and how
far hed go to change it. Mr. Ripley is a richly textured and enticingly nasty
work about a man who takes matters into his own hands when he feels passed over by
fortune, and its the best Alfred Hitchcock movie made since Alfred Hitchcock died.
A washroom attendant and a tickler of piano keys at other peoples
social affairs, Tom Ripley (Damon) is locked out of the American Dream when we meet him.
Hes smart enough, God knows (give him a second and he can think his way out of
anything), but he lacks polish and any real standing. He can see and smell what hes
missing hes surrounded by it, hes steeped in it but he
cant quite get his hands on it. That is, not until hes hired by a wealthy
sailboat manufacturer to retrieve the mans dropout son from Europe. When he catches
up to Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) in a seaside Italian village, hes dazzled to find
a satyr-like golden boy whom God has blessed with good looks, money, and an obscene sense
of self-assurance. Dickie is Toms dream version of himself, a playboy in exile who
spends his days carrying on with his American girlfriend, Marge (Paltrow), and his nights
drinking in the jazz clubs of Naples and Rome.
Tom wheedles his way
into Dickies trust the insidious impression he performs of the elder
Greenleaf subtly poisons the son against his father and he soon moves into
Dickies house, thinking that hes found a friend, a home, and a life. But to
Dickie hes only a stopgap amusement, almost a pet. Dickies loyalties are much
more aligned with Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman), another expatriate whose droll
sense of privilege causes him to treat Tom as a punching bag. (Hoffman, whos been on
a roll lately, brings a perceptible delight to playing this caustic shit.) Worse, Dickie
is sick of Toms poverty and his weak-kneed attempts to lure Dickie into something
more than friendship he wants Tom to disappear back down the rat-hole he climbed
His mission a
failure, and spurned as a brother, a lover, and even as a friend, Tom murders Dickie in a
spasm of humiliation, unrequited love, and greed. A grim farce ensues as he tries to
convince Dickies acquaintances that Dickie has moved away even as he tries to take
Dickies place in life by cashing his checks and occupying his hotel suites and
wardrobe. Marge, Freddie, the Italian police, a textile heiress (Cate Blanchett), and a
private detective all have to be dealt with, juggled, and manipulated. And Toms
natural instincts lead him to a growing involvement with Peter Kingsley-Smith (Jack
Davenport), another member of the ex-pat set. The effort involved in keeping his legal,
sexual, and ethical identities in focus pushes Tom to the breaking point.
Mr. Ripley loses a little
steam after Tom dispatches Dickie because Law is so well cast as the bronzed and fickle
Dickie, and because the mens relationship is so alive and true. (Theres more
life and heat in any one of their scenes together than there is in all of The English
Patient.) But writer-director Anthony Minghellas conception of Ripley keeps
folding back layer after layer of the character, and Damon works wonders in the part. The
story calls for him to be constantly mutating in appearance and demeanor, and these
changes are seamlessly wrought they all emanate from a single source and build on
top of one another. Like Norman Bates, Tom Ripley is a serial killer for whom identity is
a subterfuge, and Damon puts a different face on every one of his demons.
decision Minghella made pays off the creation of an important character who
isnt in Patricia Highsmiths novel, the accent on the important role that sex
plays in class envy, the straightforward handling of the gay-themed material. (The
atmosphere has a heavy sexual charge although the movie has a minimum of sex, either
hetero or homo.) The impish xylophone riff that plays when Tom tells his lies, the extras
whose clothes and postures make them look like escapees from La Dolce Vita, the
million little verbal stratagems by which Tom manipulates everyone around him all
work together to create a cunning little machine of a movie.
Ripley is more morally convulsive than Highsmiths sleek killer. The movies Tom
variously described as "a quick study," "a dark horse," and
"a double agent" starts out by killing his enemies but winds up killing
his friends, and our rue-laden final view of him gives the picture its delectable sting.
By the end of the movie the cost of his freedom is skyrocketing, and while hed do
things differently if he could, he just cant resist paying the price. The
Talented Mr. Ripley is a seductive hall of mirrors in which voluptuous desires have
consequences that can only be guessed at.
- Tom Block