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Video Reviews

Reviewed by Barry Johnson, September 22, 2000, Screens

The Talented Mr. Ripley

D: Anthony Minghella (1999); with Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's book of the same name takes the best of Highsmith's nasty sociocultural sentiments and drenches them with a crisp layer of humanity and overt homosexuality. The result is last year's most regrettable Oscar shutout (five nominations, no wins), a dazzling foray into the human mind that may have proved too disturbing for the touchy-feely sentiments of the Academy. Audience reaction was equally divided, though the curiosity factor in watching Good Will Hunting sunbathe with Jude Law propelled the film to a healthy $80 million stateside gross. Law justly received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his portrayal of Dickie Greenleaf, but a second viewing of Ripley reveals how tight the rest of the cast and filmmakers worked to spin a tale that grabs us by the balls and never lets go. Damon, in his best performance to date, plays Tom Ripley, Highsmith's smug sociopath who travels to Italy in order to persuade Law's Greenleaf to return to America and abandon his life of excess. Using funds from Greenleaf's father, who in turn believes Tom to be a former classmate of Dickie's, Tom plants himself into Dickie's world only to be cast out once the fickle Dickie retreats to the comfort of his relationship with an American expatriate (Paltrow, who fills her seemingly flighty character with cunning intuition). Murder ensues as Tom finds himself unable to cope with rejection, but not before a bit of blackmail, infidelity, and same-sex bantering on behalf of key characters. It's all quite unsettling, thanks to Minghella's adaptation and Walter Murch's subversively sluggish editing. In a stroke of genius, Minghella created a new character named Meredith (the marvelous Blanchett, filling her wafer-thin role with vulnerability and intrigue) who repeatedly, and unassumingly, threatens to expose Tom just as his actions are about to catch up with him, thus heightening the suspense a few notches. Highsmith's Ripley acted on impulse and never looked back. Minghella's Ripley is surrounded by so many visions of the American dream swathed in self-indulgence that his own psychotic behavior becomes an uncomfortable source of relief from the rituals of high society. Scary, yes, but with appearances too attractive to resist.

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