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"The Talented Mr. Ripley"

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4 and a half stars
Twists,
turns and
beauty

Reviewed by Frank Cracolice

Director Anthony Minghella's "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is, as was his Oscar-winning "The English Patient," a thing of beauty. It equals, too, "Patient" in its complexity, demanding of its audience a substantial emotional and intellectual involvement.

What we will be reading and hearing about Minghella's "Mr. Ripley" — ad nauseam — is that it makes departures here and there from Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel from which it is adapted.

What you will read here is: So what? Minghella's work is not a copy, but an adaptation. I have not read the book; nor did I read her first novel, ''Strangers On A Train,'' which Alfred Hitchcock turned into a film classic. Neither movie was created to test me on a novel.

Mark Damon As Tom Ripley, Mark Damon is playing No More Mr. Nice Guy. Good Will Hunting, he is not. As a devious young man whose life is in freeze-frame until a surprising opportunity to fast-forward it comes his way, Damon turns in a beautifully crafted performance that calls for mood changes by the moment.

What happens to Ripley is this: He gets the opportunity (and $1000 for his trouble) to go to Italy, there to talk rich, handsome, almost criminally charismatic Dickie Greenleaf (perfectly casted Jude Law) into coming home.

Shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf, Dickie's father (James Rebhorn), makes the offer because he wants his son home to run the family business, not enjoying hedonism and the beauties of Italy. And he does enjoy some beauties.

Therein lies the impetus for a film as twisted and turned as many of its scenes are breathtakingly beautiful. Sometimes, we get answers; sometimes, not.

That Tom Ripley cannot turn back from a life of opulence, we realize early on. Whether he is homosexual or bisexual, we do not know for certain. I like to think of Tom as practisexual, turned on by whatever it is that will more solidify his newfound life.

We don't know, for instance, whether he loves the enchanting Marge Sherwood (glistening Gwyneth Paltrow as Dickie's writer-girlfriend), as he says he does toward the end of the film; we do know he has loved Dickie, whose life he wanted to share while it still had a breath.

The film turns on Dickie's becoming fed up with lower-class Tom's clinging and, well, the plot is something you should inspect for yourself.

You can know now, however, that Cate Blanchett as a poor little rich girl Meredith Logue, enchanted with Dickie (Tom posing as him, rather), is fine in her role. Solid, too, is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles, a foppish Princeton chum of Dickie's who might just need killing, so unnerving is his presence.

That the novel/film is set in the '50s affords it a brilliant blending of cool jazz from the time; and the background score is hauntingly beautiful.

Finally, while Minghella is showing us what the amoral, over-the-edge Tom Ripley will do to grab the life he doesn't deserve, the director also might be asking the disturbing question: What would we do, given the same turn of events?

Theater or Video?
It was well worth the theater price.



DVD Notes

A pretty nice package with the customary widescreen and audio choices, along with a commentary track, a making-of featurette, two music videos (including one of Damon singing "My Funny Valentine"), a featurette on the making of the soundtrack and multiple interviews with the cast and crew members.

— Carlos deVillalvilla

1 star
The idea
is only
skin-deep

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

Very often in life, what we are doesn't measure up to who we'd like to be. Successful as we may be, we long to be what we are not: wealthy, powerful, adored, anonymous, irresistable to the opposite (or same, as the case may be) sex, talented, ordinary. Whatever we are not, or cannot be, it's only human nature to long to be exactly that.

Gwyneth PaltrowSometimes we want to be these things so badly that we do what we can by whatever means necessary to merely appear to be what we aren't. And, the rationale goes, perception of reality can become reality if enough people believe it. And that by whatever means necessary bit can be a bitch.

Enter Tom Ripley (Matt Damon). A young man working menial jobs to (barely) get by, he is talented only as a mimic. In other words, he should be working for a Hollywood studio, but this being New York in the 1950s, there's still too much artistic integrity in that time frame for that to be a viable option for Tom, so he works as a bathroom attendant and occasionally plays piano at cocktail parties, skirting the lives of the rich and famous just enough to develop a taste for it. It's at one of these cocktail parties where he is mistaken for a Princeton graduate by a shipping magnate (Tom is wearing a borrowed school blazer from the Ivy League school). Since said shipbuilder (James Rebhorn) has a prodigal son who went to Princeton, they strike up a conversation, and eventually, Tom gets an offer he literally can't refuse: an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy to find his "classmate" and persuade him to come home.

Jude LawHowever, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) has no intention of returning home, prefering to sail boats rather than build them. Dickie and Tom bond, as does Dickie's paramour Marge (Gwynneth Paltrow). They live the life of Riley in sunny Italy, set to a hot jazz beat. Tom grows more and more obsessed with Dickie and the life he leads, but Dickie, a fickle sort, finds his attention beginning to wander.

Circumstances transpire that give Tom the opportunity to take over Dickie's life. How Tom manages to maintain the charade, how it slowly falls apart, makes for the bulk of the movie's plot.

The movie received a lot of acclaim and more than a few Oscar nominations. On the surface, there's plenty of reason to commend it; the cast, which also includes Cate Blanchett as a poor little rich girl and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a snide, jaded snob, is first class. The cinematography is stunning and the Italian landscapes and cityscapes are breathtaking. Director Anthony ("The English Patient") Minghella is a major talent.

So why didn't this movie connect with me? Mainly, because I found the message — that the mask is more important than the man — reprehensible. As good an actor as Damon is, I couldn't find any sympathy or point of reference in the character of Tom Ripley. Tom lies, Tom cheats, Tom steals Dickie's life. I have no particular need to see the world through Tom's eyes. I guess I just have a natural-born aversion to amoral characters (see "Natural Born Killers," another acclaimed movie that I detested).

Perhaps because the indolent rich of "Ripley" see life only as they choose to see it hits too close to home for me. In the end, I was bored by these people and by their self-importance, their smugness, their short-sightedness. The wealth and the freedom it brings is impressive, but I could see nothing about the soulless, self-serving Dickie Greenleaf that would motivate me to adopt his life.

Theater or Video?
Rent this puppy, but be sure you have a television set with a crisp, clear picture to take advantage of the beautiful scenery.

DVD at Amazon.com.
VHS at Amazon.com.

See other information about "The Talented Mr. Ripley" at Internet Movie Data Base.