Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Director/Screenwriter: Anthony Minghella
Starring: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Jack Davenport
Genres: Drama, Mystery/Suspense
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity
Release Dates: 12/25/99 (Wide Theatrical); 4/27/00 (Disc/Streaming)
Where to Watch: HBO
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

I came across this Oscar-nominated film while browsing Netflix for something intriguing, thriller-like to watch while self-quarantining at home. If you’ve seen some of my other reviews, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been drawn to horror and similar films, perhaps just because I’ve been in the mood and have a newfound appreciation for them. While Anthony Minghella’s star-studded film is more of a mystery/thriller than a horror film, it contains some horrifying and creepy elements that are often found in horror genre flicks.

The film is centered on the mysterious Tom Ripley, played to creepy perfection by Matt Damon in a role that is so unlike the Damon we have come to know. He is forced to show little emotion in many of his scenes, and to appear as mysterious as is the character. For an actor who is normally so expressive, this was quite a change, but he was clearly up to the task. His aloof Ripley is a fascinating foil to Jude Law’s spoiled, insufferable, yet still somehow charming Dickie Greenleaf. Law is in only a handful of scenes, yet he makes such an impact — despite the general despicable nature of the character — that when he’s not here he is sorely missed. This is surely one of Law’s best roles, and it is clear why he received his first Oscar nomination.

The rest of the supporting cast is great, including Gwyneth Paltrow as Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge, who is probably too smart not to realize that Dickie is all sorts of trouble. When she’s heartbroken and distressed, she doesn’t appear too whiny, as she will be wont to do in her later roles. Then, there’s the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who delights as Dickie’s friend Freddie, smarter than he lets on. Jack Davenport shows up as Peter, whose relationship to Marge was unclear to me until he begins a sexual relationship with Ripley. While it is fairly evident that Ripley is gay, not much is shown, aside from some semi-intimate moments with Peter and some obvious ogling of Dickie (including wanting to get into the tub with him). And, let’s not forget Cate Blanchett as the utterly divine and aristocratic woman who falls for Ripley while believing that he is Dickie.

Minghella’s film is probably longer than it needs to be, although the story is so expansive that I’m not sure any of the scenes could have been shortened. Also, what’s strange is that I found myself totally weirded out by Damon’s Ripley, while simultaneously also not wanting him to get caught. That’s a testament to Damon’s performance, but also to the strong writing. That said, I was somewhat disappointed with the ending, which didn’t wrap things up as neatly as I would have liked. However, that was most likely not the intention.

At the end, you still don’t really know who Ripley is, as he has spent much of the film pretending to be someone he wasn’t. The motif of duality is ever present in the movie, which brings to mind numerous moral quandaries. I think I will have to watch it again to get a better idea of what it is trying to say.

B+

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