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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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 ...