Netflix Movie Month: "The Talented Mr. Ripley" Review

Photo Credit: Miramax Films

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Rating: R
Length: 139 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 1999
Directed by: Anthony Minghella
Genre: Drama / Crime / Music

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" made its United States debut on Christmas Day, 1999. The movie is set in 1950s New York City, with Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) struggling to make a living as a restroom attendant at an upscale Manhattan hotel. While posing as a Princeton alum at an alumni party, Tom is befriended by a wealthy businessman, who then sends him to Italy to try and convince his errant son, Dickie (played by Jude Law) to return to the United States. Drama ensues to include no less than a scheme of duplicity, lies and murder. The film is an adaptation of the 1955 Patricia Highsmith novel under the exact name, which was first filmed as "Plein Soleil" in 1960.

The film centers around the character of Ripley and his countless uses of deception to fool others. While in most cases a continuous pattern of lies may seem redundant, the magnitude of deceit in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and its results, leave the audience captivated throughout.

In the beginning of the film, Ripley fools the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf into thinking he is a Princeton alum and attended school with Greenleaf's son, Dickie, leading to his trip to Europe. While traveling across the ocean, Ripley, in an effort to impress young and wealthy heiress Meredith Logue (played by Cate Blanchett), assumes the identity of Dickie, the man he is trying to bring back to America. In conversation with Meredith, he even uses the exact words "it is better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody."

Though truthful about his reason for traveling to Italy upon meeting Dickie and his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow), Ripley deceives the younger Greenleaf by stating he attended Princeton and met him in their college days. Dickie uncovers the fib and is irritated by it and the sexual advances Ripley makes towards him. (It is implied during the film that Ripley's parents learned of his homosexuality years earlier and disowned him.) At this point, Ripley is drawn to the "playboy" lifestyle of Greenleaf to the point of no return.

The relationship hits a boiling point when, on a short boating trip, the two become involved in an argument, with Tom killing Dickie in an ensuing struggle. He sinks the boat to conceal his wrongdoing, expressing deep remorse over his actions, leaving many to wonder whether his character is on the verge of a makeover.

Just when the audience thinks his lies have caught up to him for good, Ripley discovers he can assume the identity of Dickie when a hotel concierge mistakes him for Greenleaf. The deception continues with Ripley living off Dickie's allowance. He possesses the natural ability to forge signatures from just a simple glance, much to the intrigue of viewers. As Dickie's friends become more and more suspicious of his whereabouts, the adventure turns into a "cat and mouse" game with the Italian authorities, and yet a repeat of another deadly sin, murder.

Though the actions of Mr. Ripley range from morally wrong to demonic throughout the film, he still manages to catch the interest, and even the admiration, of viewers. Since his mastery of deception is still a talent, nonetheless, the title of the movie fits perfectly. Ripley is never brought to justice for his heinous (yet remarkable) acts and is made into somewhat of an icon because of his ability to get away with murder, pun intended. His state at the end of the film, however, teaches the important lesson that such actions force him into a solitary life void of acceptance or love.

This Miramax film has garnered countless praise from critics. Roger Ebert gave the flick 4 out of 4 stars, calling it "an intelligent thriller," and "insidious in the way it leads us to identify with Tom Ripley." "He's a monster, but we want him to get away with it." A total of 58 nominations and 11 awards make the film one of the best of its time.

Directed by Anthony Minghella, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is a captivating drama, pertaining to a wide audience. Most remarkable is how such a simple initial dishonesty at a social gathering (Ripley's claim to be an Ivy League alum) is the root of a series of disastrous and deadly consequences halfway around the world. Many are also drawn to the star cast of Damon, Blanchett, Paltrow, Law and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, among others. Though released at the turn of the century, its popularity makes it a favorite among movie watchers young and old.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5