"The Talented Mr. Ripley" Review
© 2000 Fontaine L.
- spoiler warning -

For the life of me, I can't figure out how this movie garnered a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Picture category. I think a lot of members thought, oh hey, it's Anthony Minghella, who won an Academy Award for "The English Patient," and hey, it features an Oscar-caliber cast . . . What could possibly go wrong? I think it's precisely because of the amount of expectation put into this film, because of all the buzz that's been surrounding it from conception to casting to post-production, it is hard-pressed to become . . . a masterpiece. And when it's something less than that--something that strives, but falls just a bit short of achieving excellence--we all scream bloody murder. I suppose that was just a round-about way of saying I was expecting too much. The difference here is that I wasn't expecting too much JUST based on the trailer on the buzz; I was expecting nothing short of a cinematic classic based on what I've heard from critics and friends. What weighed the film down? Too much talk, too little action. Too much building up of suspense, too little release. Too little told, too much withheld.

The nominations I do agree with: best actor, for Matt Damon; and best supporting actor, for Jude Law. I cannot believe the talent Minghella managed to round up for this film. Damon (otherwise known as MY MATTY) shows an unsuspected versatility with his turn as a rags-to-riches Norman Bates-like character (more on this character later). I am now even more convinced now that he is one of the best talents the younger generation of actors has to offer (the other examples are of course all in this film as well, egads). Admittedly this is only the second major role I've seen him in, but the contrast between Will Hunting and Tom Ripley is marked and allows for a display of Damon's range and talent. Gone is the sweet vulnerability of Will Hunting; meet Tom Ripley, just as intelligent, just as talented (har har), but deeply disturbed. It's creepy how you can sense this disturbance but at the same time a deep-seated helplessness in Ripley's every move. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part? At any rate, Damon is a clever choice for Ripley, and I'm happy to report that this role should be an eye-catcher for Damon. I'm impressed that he has no problem with playing dorky and psychotic while letting Law steal the spotlight as the film's sex symbol. Jude Law, as Dickie, again partakes in a film about identity issues (as he has in "Gattaca"); he exudes sexuality and charisma. Gwyneth Paltrow proves that yes, she does deserve that golden statue she won, with her role as the sweet and faithful Marge. I never did see the movie that made Cate Blanchett a star, but after "Pushing Tin" and this film it is clear that Blanchett is a most welcome import from Australia. With hardly a trace of her native accent, Blanchett plays the naive, flimsy American girl who falls in love with Ripley. The wonderful thing is how well these actors work with each other, too. Marge and Dickie make a charming couple, while the complex relationship between Dickie and Tom is charged with homosexual undercurrents, anger, fear, and love. There is the mutual respect and understanding (and later paranoia and suspicion) between Tom and Marge; there is Blanchett's character's foolish seduction. All in all it is the actors that make this film shine. I also enjoyed the appearance of that guy from "Law & Order." Har har har.

The score was exquisite and moving; costumes (especially Gwyneth Paltrow's), set design, cinematography and direction all deserve nods. This is why I love a good period film; you feel like you're transported into a separate world, where everything is foreign despite the common language.

It is a regret that such advantages the film has are not sufficient to make up for a thin plot. I have not read Patricia Highsmith's novel, but I suppose what intricacies of the human mind, what suspicions, what paranoia written word is able to examine might not convey as well on screen. We know we're supposed to be moving forward, but everything feels stagnant. There are some anxious, nail-biting moments; but these are introduced sporadically; after a while we learn to anticipate the lull that follows after. We feel like we've never really been introduced to Ripley. Sure, that adds to the mystery and suspense, but I'd like to have something to go on. Why is he this way? Where was he before he became an accompanist? At least in "Psycho," we got somewhat of an explanation. Part of what made Norman Bates appealing (as a villain) was how his past was revealed to us. Here, we get the crime but not the motive. Yes, the crimes are thrilling (but somewhat predictable, towards the end . . .) and well-executed, but not supplying the least bit of explanation makes it all a bit . . . arbitrary. Ripley's outstanding diatribe towards the end of the film then seems a frantic attempt to explain it all away. The story could have been told in a shorter time frame; but does that mean cutting some of the breathtaking shots? Decisions . . .

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" fell short of my expectations (it might not fall short of yours; I understand a lot of people thought "The English Patient" was boring, too) due to the aforementioned reasons. Don't expect excitement at every corner, and I have a feeling you'll get a lot more out of the movie. "Ripley" may not be the bag of thrills its trailer makes it out to be, but its rich contents and splendid performances will reward close scrutiny and repeat viewing . . . in an entirely different manner.

Rating: B+ (First viewing, 1/6/00)