|Talented Mr. Ripley, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 27 June 2000|
To some extent, this screen version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ (which was adapted for the screen before as the French film ‘Purple Noon’) is by all accounts a reimagining of the source material. Director/scenarist Anthony Minghella tweaks the title character’s motives and desires enough to change the story’s emphasis entirely, but creates something new that works on its own terms – startling, insightful and ultimately quite sad.
The story begins in 1950s New York City, where young men’s room attendant Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is mistaken for an Ivy League classmate of wealthy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). When Dickie’s father (James Rebhorn) offers Tom $1,000 plus expenses to track down the long-absent Dickie in Italy and persuade him to come home, Tom can’t resist. A gifted mimic and a quick study, Tom learns that Dickie is a jazz fan and promptly immerses himself in the musical form. It’s not hard to find Dickie and his girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) and for awhile, they find Tom an enjoyable companion, and Tom is positively bedazzled by the charismatic Dickie. Then Dickie’s old pal Freddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman) appears on the scene, causing Dickie to rethink his association with Tom. Jealousy and accusations are hurled about, followed by sudden violence.
This comes at about the halfway point. What was reportedly premeditated in the novel (which this reviewer hasn’t read) is depicted here as half crime of passion and half self-defense. The film thereafter ratchets up the suspense and the questions. How can Tom elude detection and – a question that doesn’t often arise is this kind of drama – do we want him caught? The conclusion is both unpredictable in both its particulars and its effect.
Minghella expertly captures a lot of the strange, subtle dances we take for granted in social interactions. He has astute, compelling observations on how decisions are made when we’re forming friendships, how people indicate to others that they are (or aren’t) having fun, the maneuvers that occur when important associations start to chill and the ferocity that can arise when one or both parties stop playing by the unspoken rules.
Minghella also has a great eye. If we’re going to see a group of people tangling with each other, first playfully, then lethally, they might as well do it in an Italy that seems bathed in perpetual golden light, thanks to John Seale’s elegant cinematography.
The erudite Mr. Minghella provides a film-length audio commentary, with the soundtrack still playing but muted beneath it. The ‘Ripley’ DVD has the welcome innovation of providing dialogue captioning beneath Minghella’s narrative, so that it’s easy to follow the action while listening to his observations. These include a very thoughtful interpretation of the underlying meanings of overall themes and specific scenes, and also humorous details – for instance, every location they used in Italy is actually masquerading as some other Italian city.
As Minghella points out, music is a very important part of the film – indeed, he describes ‘Ripley’ as an argument between classical and jazz. We therefore get a supplemental documentary on the making of the soundtrack, which includes comments from the cast along with Minghella and composer Gabriel Yared, that takes us to soundtrack recording sessions with the orchestra. The DVD also comes with a regular "making of" featurette and a separate bonus set of intercut interviews with Minghella, Damon, Law, Paltrow, Hoffman and Cate Blanchett; the last two turn out to be particularly insightful about their characters.
There are some very strong jazz sequences, both as part of the score and installed within scenes. In Chapter 5, Dickie and Tom let loose at the mike with Fiorello on "Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano" at a tiny basement Italian club, creating a tumultuous, exuberant atmosphere – just right from Tom’s state of mind – backed by some hot instrumentation from the Guy Barker International Quintet. A "music video" of this sequence appears as part of the DVD’s extras, but it’s a straight lift from the film, with no embellishments. (The "My Funny Valentine" music video does intercut scenes from the film with the performance.) A quite different composition over the Chapter 1 opening titles, "Lullaby for Cain," has a stark, almost Celtic sound that aptly sets the mood for what will follow, with vocals by Sinead O’Connor, music by composer Yared and lyrics by Minghella (those with any questions about the word should turn to Minghella’s audio track – the lyrics appear onscreen as part of the captioning).
‘The Talented’ Mr. Ripley’ is a complex, multi-layered film that plays uncommon games with our sympathies. We are invited to both identify with and feel anger toward virtually all of its characters, victims and victimizers alike. It succeeds in being troubling while spinning a dark yarn that is perpetually intriguing.