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Minghella gives us the sad boy who wets his pants, not the charming snake that kills

  • Mar 19, 2011
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 is that Minghella takes nearly two-and-a-half hours to tell Tom's story. Just about 139 minutes to be more exact. We learn far more about Tom's background than we need - how he met his prey's father and got to Europe, his homoeroticism, his soul searching, his yearning. (Note to Minghella: Tom Ripley doesn't have a soul; that's one of the reason's he's so fascinating.)

Minghella piles on miles of beautiful tourist scenery, throws in a new, major character, and in general just uses too much time. Once a director makes a couple of prestigious hits, establishes his name, maybe wins an Oscar, attracts big stars who want to work with him, and does his own writing, a key quality is usually lost. That's the ability of someone to say to him, "Buddy, here's your budget. Exceed it and we'll take the picture away from you" and "Hey, kid, if you don't give us a finished cut that comes in at under 100 minutes, you lose the final edit."
With Minghella's more sympathetic and less interesting Tom, we have a young man whose tragic flaws lead to murder and whose regrets lead to angst. Tom (Matt Damon) wants the good things in life. He's poor but is a natural chameleon and a willing opportunist. When he attaches himself to the wealthy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), life is good. When Dickie gets tired of him, Tom knows life will no longer be good. He knows he most likely can become Dickie. So he takes steps to do just that. Exit Dickie. Now Tom is in a cat and mouse adventure, moving faster and faster to protect himself and his investment in this new, lovely life of leisure. There's Dickie's on-and-off fiancée, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) to deal with, Dickie's old pal Freddie Miles (Philip Seymore Hoffman) to deal with, a new character Minghella decided to layer into the story (an irritatingly mannered Meredith Logue played by Cate Blanchett) to deal with and another young man who may wish he'd never met Tom. With frantic improvisation, some wooing, some boyish charm, an additional murder or two and a bout of sobbing regret, Tom Ripley does what he must. Unfortunately, Minghella has taken a charmingly conscience-free murder story and tried to turn it into meaningful literature.
Matt Damon does a fine job as Anthony Minghella's version of Tom Ripley, but don't expect the scheming, mooching, self-centered and charming Tom Ripley of either Highsmith's creation or of the Tom Ripley played by Alain Delon in Rene Clement's version of this same story, Purple Noon (Plein Soleil). In a bit of nasty uneasiness, Highsmith, Minghella and Clement all turn us into observers who are rooting for Tom's success, but Clement manages to do this while telling Tom's story in 30 fewer minutes that Minghella needs. Minghella, however, also wants us to "understand" Tom. All we really need is to sit back and enjoy Tom's attitude and his crimes. 
Minghella gives us the sad boy who wets his pants, not the charming snake that kills Minghella gives us the sad boy who wets his pants, not the charming snake that kills Minghella gives us the sad boy who wets his pants, not the charming snake that kills

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More The Talented Mr. Ripley reviews
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 . June 30, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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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C. O. DeRiemer ()
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Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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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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