The Talented Mr. Ripley

Date:    December 30, 1999

Cast:

Tom Ripley - Matt Damon
Marge Sherwood - Gwyneth Paltrow
Dickie Greenleaf - Cate Blanchett
Freddie Miles - Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Director: Anthony Minghella


Movies based upon books have long been a cinematic staple. Even back to Gone With The Wind, people felt the need to transcribe the words they read into the images created in their mind by reading them. There have been many successes, but unfortunately many failures as well. The problem is that different people view and interpret things different way. Either that or, there is too much information to bring to the screen. Hence, something is left out, and/or misunderstood, unless the viewer has read the book. The Talented Mr. Ripley is based upon a series of books by Patricia Highsmith. I know nothing of this story, or these books, so I cannot judge how well the interpretation was done. What I can judge however, are my thoughts on this movie, and my feelings based upon knowing it's based on a book.

I feel that when you bring literary works to the screen, it should not be necessary for the viewer to have read the books in order to understand. This is where Stephen King books to movies usually suffer. In Ripley’s case, I just felt, throughout the whole movie, that something was missing. Whether it be motivation, character development, background, I do not know, but I was just left feeling empty. Director Anthony Minghella obviously knows how to make a nice looking, techinically beautiful film. He uses his landscapes, camera angles, and set designs, to create a totally breathtaking, and captivating backdrop to this story. My problems with Ripley are numerous. First off, there is the story. It is too cliched, predictable, and drawn out. I get the basic premise, Ripley doesn’t like his life, so he borrows others, this much is admitted and obvious. The way he borrows, is his dark side, that we only see the actions, but never the causes. Granted, I do not need a detailed schematic of why he does what he does, but I would have preferred a little more than just cryptic hints. I don’t mind thinking in a movie, but give me something to think about at least.

Next there is the predictability aspect. I felt like I was watching one of late Friday night, or USA detective/crime shows, where the villain is known to everyone, its just how, when, or even if, he gets caught, that is left to deduce. The movie unfolds and follows a similar plotline to these shows. I will not divulge anymore, but if you know the shows I’m talking about, you’ll see the resemblance. Then, there are the performances. Damon, regardless of how good an actor he is, just cannot look evil. Even buried behind glasses, those eyes cannot hide the innocence inside him. I had a very hard time buying him in this role. Also severely wasted, were last year’s Oscar cat-fighters, Gwyneth and Cate. Neither of them were much more than window dressing roles. Although Blanchett’s role was more of a walk-on, say your line, walk off kind of role. They did their best with what they were given, problem is, they were not given much. The only saving grace, acting wise, was Jude Law. His smoldering eyes, and cocky persona, come across wonderfully as the spoiled playboy whom Tom envies. If only the writers could have given all o f the other characters the same passion, and intriguing caricature that Law was given, this movie might have stood a chance.

Ultimately, this is an example of a mildly interesting idea, turned into a bland, but beautiful cinematic experience. I will not deny that the movie, performers, and scenery are all very easy on the eyes. After a while however, these are mere distractions and just aren’t enough. There is only so much polish you can put on garbage, before its true appearance comes through. Ripley could have benefited from a director who was more focused on developing, and making me care about the characters, than just giving them some nice clothes, nice backdrops, and throwing in hints every now and then about why they do things. I should’ve heeded my instincts from the previews, which looked trite and predictable. Indeed, it was. Stay home and catch Ripley, and see if you can find the talent that I missed. ($$ out of $$$$)

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