The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) In late 1950s New York, Tom Ripley, a young underachiever, is sent to Italy to retrieve a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy, Dickie Greenleaf. But when the errand fails, Ripley takes extreme measures.
Heard of this movie? Maybe? If you’ve taken a film class you’ve almost certainly heard of it, but otherwise it probably slipped under your radar. Well I’m here to tell you to put it on your radar. Now. I first experienced this movie about 6 years ago in my high school American Film studies class, along with other classics like The Birds, Psycho, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. Those are all phenomenal movies obviously, but of all of them only one has resonated with me all these years. Yes, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Why? Well I will try to figure that out here.
First of all, this movie is a technical masterpiece of cinema. Now the last time I used the term technical masterpiece was to describe Gravity. While this remains true, the reason this movie is held in the same regard as well as why this has become a major piece of study in many film classes is because of its use of cinematography, mise-en-scene, (cinematic symbolism in what we see in a particular shot) editing, and sound to portray and convey the talented, tormented Mr. Tom Ripley. This movie has an extreme OCD-level attention to detail to ensure this, as every shot feels intentional and thought out by the director, Anthony Minghella. The fantastic use of mise-en-scene here is beautiful. One of the most memorable moments of the film involves this, as we see Tom’s reflection on a piano split in two with an incredibly somber musical movement behind it to symbolize the depressive state Tom is in as he desperately tries to keep the life that has been created because of his friendship with Dickie Greenleaf. This five-second shot is incredibly powerful and terrifyingly beautiful and one of many shots where mise-en-scene plays a pivotal role throughout the film. Additionally the score here is one of the best scores that you will never remember. There’s no major memorable movement like many of the classic scores, but the score brilliantly sets the mood throughout the movie, conveying exactly what Tom is feeling through the power of music.
Now the drawback to this for someone not as “into” movies as I am is that you have to fully engage yourself in this film in order to truly enjoy it and be affected by it. It is a little on the longer side, clocking in at 139 minutes long. But honestly if anything it should’ve been longer. Actually this is my one complaint on the film. The opening sequence is very quickly paced. We see very little development into what Ripley did before he gets sent to Italy to bring Dickie back to the states. But this is a minor complaint, and besides…Italy is 100x better to look at anyway. Which brings me to my next point! (Did you see what I did there?) This movie was clearly shot on location in various locations of Italy, and it shows. The sets are absolutely breathtaking, and the cinematography to capture and portray the locations was equally as brilliant.
So I haven’t talked about the acting yet. But that’s because I’m saving the best for last. So….the cast here is an all-star A-list cast, and it includes Matt Damon as Ripley, Jude Law as Dickie, Gwyneth Paltrow, a gorgeous Cate Blanchett, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Jack Davenport. Notice I used gorgeous to describe Blanchett, not Paltrow. I didn’t know that she could look as good as she does in this movie but man is she stunning. And she is one of the best actresses around. Of course Hoffman is up to his usual tricks here, and man does he dazzle. I really love when he plays the wise-cracking, smart-ass guy in the group. The one that everyone knows and who’s reputation faaaaar proceeds him. Law is charming and charismatic as ever, and a brilliant philanthropist, but the one who absolutely steals the show (and makes this an absolute classic of a movie) is Matt Damon. Simply put, this is the greatest performance of Matt Damon’s career. Not only that, it just might make my top ten best performances I have ever seen from an actor on screen. He is asked to do so much in this role, and he puts on an unforgettable performance. He had some great writing and character development from Minghella as well to see the rise and fall of his character, but he plays it with intensity, charisma, intelligence, and fear. Damon does a phenomenal job making himself look and feel like a young kid just trying to make something out of his seemingly meaningless existence. Despite some of the despicable things he does, I always sympathized with him. And that is because of how Damon played the character. This experience would’ve been vastly different and not as resonating had I hated Ripley for what he did.
There are entire character studies on all six of these characters (I know I did one on Paltrow’s character myself for my class) but I just can’t really say much more about this masterpiece because part of the enjoyment here is watching Ripley’s rise and fall as a character unfold before you, as well as how the other five are affected by him trying to be a fake somebody as opposed to a real nobody. But this movie is absolutely worth seeing. Now, go and watch it and experience/discover the talented Mr. Ripley.
The Critique: a technical masterpiece of cinema. Pure brilliance on every level.
The Recommendation: A must-see for anyone who admires the movies. Worth every single second.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
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