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Reviews in Retrospect: The Talented Mr Ripley

A chilling psychological thriller about envy, stolen identity and crimes of passion set in the stunning landscape of the Italian Riviera.

The talented mr ripley

Anthony Minghella’s spectacular adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel was a critical and commercial success. Minghella helped immortalise the anti-hero Tom Ripley, who was the subject of four other Highsmith novels.

Matt Damon gives an extraordinary performance as the young, talented and disadvantaged outsider. Tom Ripley’s eager acceptance of Herbert Greenleaf’s (James Rebhorn) offer to convince his errant playboy son Dickie - played with seductive facility by Jude Law - to return from Europe to America begins the narrative’s trajectory of an aspiration to privilege and attendant acknowledgement that will stop at nothing.

At the centre of the film is the unlikely friendship between Tom and Dickie, with Highsmith’s familiar homoerotic undertones. Dickie’s vanity lures him into Tom’s flirtation but increasingly this becomes irritating and claustrophobic to him. Tom becomes completely infatuated with Dickie and everything he represents.

Two significant supporting roles in the film are played by Cate Blanchett as Meredith Logue and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles. Coming from ‘old money’, Blanchett’s character is gracious, naive and quietly confident. By contrast, the nouveau-riche boy Freddy Miles has a loud, boorish presentation but is astute and wise-to-the-world. They populate this critique of American society, the values and divisions that are always a preoccupation of Highsmith’s work, and never more so than here.

The other supporting actor, Gwyneth Paltrow, plays Marge Sherwood, a would-be writer who spends more time ‘trailing her finger in the water’ than writing. She is the kind of pleasant and naïve female character of Highsmith’s creation that has fuelled accusations of misogyny in her work. Though Sherwood is key to the plot, she never feels significant to the real story.

Interestingly, Jude Law’s performance was recognised by a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor and Seymour Hoffman’s by the National Board of Review Awards, while the director was also justly recognised as Best Director by the same body. But Damon, on whose insightful interpretation of the titular role the film stands, was not.

It’s a fact that carries ironic resonance since Tom Ripley, no matter how talented, seems doomed to be alienated from the society he so yearns to be a part of. This takes nothing away from - and in fact possibly adds to - the applauded, consistently demonstrated talent of Mr Damon.

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