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"Why do boys always play at killing each other"?

  • Jun 30, 2002
The Talented Mr. Ripley reminded me of nothing quite so much as Ridley Scott's Hannibal. That in itself is no bad thing, for Hannibal is a terrific piece of cinema, and in any case The Talented Mr. Ripley predates Hannibal by a couple of years. It is certainly true that Hannibal borrows much from Mr. Ripley in terms of style - and for that matter, a number of the set pieces. The Opera scene; the coffee emporia, the perfume; the high-end dolce vita, counterpointed against the subject's grisly deeds - these hallmarks of Hannibal all flow thickly through Mr. Ripley.

Where Ridley Scott was canny, though, was in upgrading the experience from coach to first class - Hannibal's Florence is an altogether more sophisticated, more lushly shot, and better understood rendition of what is so alluring to outsiders about Italy than Ripley's equivalent. Minghella tends to punt for the familiar, picture postcard scenes, relying on obvious tourist locations (Spanish Steps, Trevisi Fountain etc) but for all that fails to capture Italy with anything like the same wit or erudition.

The films works very well fundamentally as a richly shot (if badly overlong) psychological thriller - in places it is as tense as to be almost un-watchable - but I'm not sure what it achieves at a more substantial level. In this regard, your two and a half hours are scantly rewarded. I had much the same reaction to The English Patient: Beautiful to look at, sweeping and epic; all very brooding and meaningful, but for what?

Minghella's picture has enough style and is well enough acted and directed to raise the expectation that something significant is afoot, but despite much promise, nothing (other than the thriller) materialises. For example, the Opera (and Ripley's reaction to it) seems to be building to a point of some weight, but the point is never ultimately made. Perhaps, I'll grant you, I just didn't get it - but on first viewing I was left creasing my brow. Similarly, the conclusion to the film, while carefully (painstakingly, almost) constructed, ends up being confusing and more than a little, well, inconclusive. Again, it was as if the film were on the way to the point, but never quite made it.

This isn't to say Minghella doesn't try: a number of figurative devices recur during the film, but mostly they are (or their execution is) clumsy: swinging, fractured mirrors, shadows and lighting dancing on faces, rippling (ha!) water fading in and out of focus, and an almost hammy explosion of disturbed pigeons every time Mr. Ripley crosses a square (Hannibal borrowed this device too, but put it to much eerier effect). All these clever cinematic devices add critically to the length of the picture, without adding to the sum total of its message.

These objections shouldn't detract from the fact that Mr. Ripley is a very clever, tense thriller. Jude Law turns in a terrific performance, and Gwyneth Paltrow gives an intelligent, understated, underrated portrayal of the long suffering cuckold. And while I can't bring myself to like Matt Damon, you have to admire his technical skill as an actor.

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More The Talented Mr. Ripley reviews
review by . March 19, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Minghella gives us the sad boy who wets his pants, not the charming snake that kills
Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley suffers badly from that all-too-common condition, auteur's bloat. It's not just that the young, charming, amoral and murderous Tom Ripley has been turned into a corn-fed young man with tragic flaws. That wouldn't necessarily be a problem. Although those who love Patricia Highsmith's unadulterated protagonist might fuss, changing things is inherent in bringing books to movies. A different take on a character can be interesting. The problem …
Quick Tip by . December 28, 2010
Matt Damon demonstrates his acting ability in this movie. I didn't like his role at all but he certainly pulled it off as one fine actor!
review by . March 16, 2001
posted in Movie Hype
Unlike most critics and many people, I did not like Anthony Minguella's THE ENGLISH PATIENT. I admit that many of the visuals in that film were stunning. However, I was not at all impressed by the story and to be honest the acting wasn't all that great (Miramax has often won awards not because of talent or performance, but because they have an incredibly huge checkbook thanks to the Mouse). From the previews, I actually thought I might enjoy RIPLEY. The visuals looked once again stunning, the lead …
review by . January 14, 2000
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Good acting, and outstanding scenery     Cons: Slow in places, loose ends     Based on the highly acclaimed novel by Patricia Highsmith, Matt Damon stars as the chameleon-like Tom Ripley, who is commissioned to retrieve errant playboy and self-proclaimed expatriate, Jude Law from Italy. The simple errand turns deadly as Damon develops an unhealthy obsession with the gentleman playboy expatriate and his girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow, and people start dropping …
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"I feel like I've been handed a new life," says Tom Ripley at a crucial turning point of this well-cast, stylishly crafted psychological thriller. And indeed he has, because the devious, impoverished Ripley (played with subtle depth by Matt Damon) has just traded his own identity for that of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), the playboy heir to a shipping fortune who has become Ripley's model for a life worth living. Having been sent by Dickie's father to retrieve the errant son from Italy, Ripley has smoothly ingratiated himself with Dickey and his lovely, unsuspecting fiancée, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). In due course, the sheer evil of Ripley's amoral scheme will be revealed.

Superbly adapted from the acclaimed novel by Patricia Highsmith (also the basis of the acclaimed French version, Purple Noon), The Talented Mr. Ripley is writer-director Anthony Minghella's impressive follow-up to his Oscar-winning triumph The English Patient. Re-creating late-1950s Italy in exacting detail, the film captures the sensuousness of la dolce vita while suspensefully developing the fracturing of Ripley's mind as his crimes grow increasingly desperate. And where Hitchcock was necessarily discreet with the homosexual subtext of Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, Minghella brings it out of the closet, increasing the dramatic tension and complexity of Ripley's psychological breakdown. Phillip Seymour Hoffman ...

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