Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) * * *

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a young man struggling to make a living in NYC in the 1950s. While working at a party playing the piano, he is approached by wealthy Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn), who believes him to be a school friend of his son, Dickie. Greenleaf asks Ripley to travel to Italy to persuade Dickie to return to the US. Dickie is a wayward son, throwing his life away on Jazz and a girlfriend. Ripley accepts the assignment, even though he did not go to Princeton and has never met Dickie. He is given $1,000 to carry out this job. In Italy Ripley meets Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow), and quickly ingratiates himself into their lives. Over time Dickie begins to resent Ripley's presence and growing dependence, especially after he learns that Ripley has been lying about their days together at Princeton. Ripley's feelings are complicated by his desire to maintain the wealthy lifestyle Greenleaf has afforded him, and by his growing sexual obsession with his new friend.

Dickie Greenleaf: You know, without the glasses you're not even ugly.
Tom Ripley: I really feel happy. As if I had been granted a new lease in life. (imitating Dickie's father) "To me, jazz is noise. Insolent noise."
Dickie Greenleaf: Wow! Cut it out! It's so spooky, my hair's on end!
Tom Ripley: You're the brother I never had. I'm the brother you never had. I would do anything for you, Dickie.
Tom Ripley: First of all I know there's something. That evening when we played chess for instance it was obvious.
Dickie Greenleaf: What evening?
Tom Ripley: Oh sure, no, no, it's too dangerous for you to take on. Oh, no, no, we're brothers. Hey. And then you do this sordid thing with Marge. F**king her on the boat so we all have to listen. Which was excruciating! And you follow your c**k around and now you're getting married! I'm bewildered, forgive me. You're lying to Marge and then you're getting married to her. You're knocking up Silvana. You're ruining everybody. You wanna play the sax, you wanna play the drums. What is it, Dickie? What do you actually want?
Dickie Greenleaf: Who are you? Huh? Some third class loser? Who are you? Who are you to say anything to me? Who are you to tell me anything? Actually I really, really don't want to be on this boat with you. I can't move without you moving. Gives me the creeps. You give me the creeps!

As a gesture to Ripley, Greenleaf agrees to travel with him on a short holiday to Sanremo. The two hire a small boat and go sailing. They begin arguing while on board, with Dickie rejecting and mocking Ripley. Enraged, Ripley attacks Dickie, smashing him with an oar that kills him. Ripley then sinks the boat with Dickie's body on board to conceal his crime. When the hotel concierge mistakes Ripley for Greenleaf, Ripley realizes he can assume Greenleaf's identity. He takes on Dickie's signature and passport, and begins living off his allowance, while at the same time carefully providing communications to Marge to make her believe that Dickie has deserted her. "I feel like I've been handed a new life," he says. Greenleaf's old friend Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) visits Ripley at what he supposes to be Greenleaf's apartment in Rome. He is immediately suspicious of Ripley. When Miles discovers Ripley's scam, Ripley murders him and dumps the body.

Freddie Miles: In fact the only thing that looks like Dickie is you.
Tom Ripley: Hardly.
Freddie Miles: Have you done something to your hair?
Tom Ripley: Freddie, do you have something you'd like to say?
Freddie Miles: What? I think I'm saying it. Something's going on. He's either converted to Christianity... or to something else.
Tom Ripley: I suggest you ask Dickie that yourself. Otello's is on delle Croce, just off the Corso.
Freddie Miles: Is it on "delle Croce, just off the Corso?" You're a quick study, aren't you? Last time you didn't know your ass from your elbow, now you're giving me directions. That's not fair, you probably do know your ass from your elbow. I'll see you.

Ripley's life becomes a cat and mouse game with the Italian police and Greenleaf's friends. He must alternate between Dickie Greenleaf and Tom Ripley. His predicament is complicated by Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett), a wealthy heiress he met while traveling to Italy, who believes Ripley to be Dickie. Ripley eventually resumes his own identity, forges a suicide note in Greenleaf's name, and moves to Venice. Soon Marge, Herbert Greenleaf, and private detective Alvin MacCarron (Philip Baker Hall) confront Ripley. Marge suspects Ripley of involvement in Dickie's death, and Ripley plans to murder her. He is interrupted when Marge's friend, Peter Smith-Kingsley (Jack Davenport), enters the apartment.

Peter: Sorry, I'm completely lost.
Tom Ripley: I know. I'm lost, too. I'm going to be stuck in the basement, aren't I, that's my, that's my... terrible, and alone, and dark, and I've lied about who I am, and where I am, and now no-one will ever find me.
Peter: What do you mean... lied about who you are?
Tom Ripley: I always thought it'd be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.
Peter: What are you talking about? You're not a nobody. That's the last thing you are.

Near the end of the film, private detective MacCarron reveals that Mr. Greenleaf has decided to give Ripley a portion of Dickie's income with the understanding that certain details about his son's past not be revealed to the Italian police. Ripley goes on a cruise with Smith-Kingsley, his new gay lover, only to discover that Meredith Logue is also on board. Logue knows Ripley only as Dickie Greenleaf, and Ripley realizes it will be impossible to keep Smith-Kingsley from discovering that he has been passing himself off as Greenleaf, since Peter and Meredith know each other. He cannot solve this dilemma by murdering Logue, because she is traveling with a large family who will notice her disappearance. The movie concludes with a sobbing Ripley killing Smith-Kingsley to protect his secret, and returning to his cabin alone. Everything indicates that Ripley has successfully gotten away with murders, but the ending is somewhat ambiguous so that viewers can draw their own conclusions about what happens.

(last lines)
Peter Smith-Kingsley: Good things about Mr. Ripley? Could take some time. Tom is talented. Tom is tender... Tom is beautiful... Tom is a mystery. Tom is not a nobody. Tom has secrets he doesn't want to tell me, and I wish he would. Tom has nightmares. That's not a good thing. Tom has someone to love him. That is a good thing. Tom is crushing me. Tom is crushing me... Tom, you're crushing me!

The cast also includes: Sergio Rubini (Inspector Roverini), Celia Weston (Aunt Joan), Fiorello (Fausto), Stefania Rocca (Silvana), Ivano Marescotti (Colonnello Verrecchia), Anna Longhi (Signora Buffi), Alessandro Fabrizi (Sergeant Baggio), Lisa Eichhorn (Emily Greenleaf), Gretchen Egolf (Fran), Jack Willis (Greenleaf Chaffeur), Frederick Alexander Bosche (Fran's Boyfriend), Dario Bergesio (Police Officer), Larry Kaplan (Uncle Ted), Claire Hardwick (Gucci Assistant), Antonio Prester (American Express Clerk), Lorenzo Mancuso (Bus Driver), Onofrio Mancuso (Priest), Massimo Reale (Immigration Officer), Emanuele Carucci Viterbi (American Express Clerk), Caterina Deregibus (Dahlia), Silvana Bosi (Ermelinda), Gianfranco Barra (Desk Manager Aldo), Renato Scarpa (Tailor), Deirdre Lovejoy (Fighting Neighbor), Brian Tarantina (Fighting Neighbor), Guy Barker (Trumpet), Bernardo Sassetti (Piano), Perico Sambeat (Alto Sax), Gene Calderazzo (Drummer), Joseph Lepore (Double Bass), Rosario Giuliuni (Tenor Sax), Eddy Palerno (Electric Guitar), Byron Wallen (Cornet), Pete King (Alto Sax), Clark Tracey Drummer), Jean Toussaint (Tenor Sax), Geoff Gascoyne (Bass), Carlo Negroni (Pano), Beppe Fiorello (Silvana's Fiancé), Marco Quaglia (Silvana's Brother), Alessandra Vanzi (Silvana's Mother), Marco Rossi (Photographer), Roberto Valentini (Onegin), Francesco Bovino (Lensky), Stefano Canettieri (Zaretsky), Marco Foti (Guillot), Ludovica Tinghi (Fausto's Fiancée), Nicola Pannelli (Dinelli's Cafe Waiter), Paolo Calabresi (Customs Officer), Pietro Ragusa (Record Store Owner), Simone Empler (Boy Singer), Gianluca Secci (Policeman), Manuel Ruffini (Policeman), Pierpaolo Lovino (Policeman), Roberto Di Palma (San Remo Hotel Desk Clerk), Cesare Cremonini (Boat Salesman), Fabrizia Dal Farra (Italian girl), Kent Gregory (Dockworker # 2), and Frank Slaten (Dockworker # 1). Gabriel Yared composed the original music. Anthony Minghella wrote the screenplay from Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel. Anthony Minghella directed.

This stylish psychological thriller features outstanding acting by the entire cast. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY is writer-director Anthony Minghella's impressive follow-up to his Oscar-winning triumph THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996). Re-creating late-1950s Italy in detail, the film captures la dolce vita while suspensefully developing the fracturing of Ripley's mind as his crimes grow increasingly desperate. And while Alfred Hitchcock was necessarily discreet with the homosexual subtext in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), Minghella brings it out of the closet, increasing the dramatic tension and complexity of Ripley's psychological breakdown. Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley, the murderous hero, although he is outshone by the dazzling Jude Law, whose violent disappearance halfway through the picture is a great loss. Law is the draw, a sunny, slippery, and pansexual character who would have made a better Ripley himself. However, Matt Damon appears in almost every frame and is mesmerizing. This film feels warm but unsettling, as if hinting at approaching storms. The musical score is evocative and moving, flitting from lugubrious to manic.

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY was filmed mainly in Italy with famous landmarks in the cities of Rome and Venice being used as a backdrop for the narrative. The beautiful Italian scenery more than compensates for any deficiencies in the movie. It's a very complex yet compelling story that requires strict attention to comprehend. This Hitchcockian character drama was previously filmed as PURPLE NOON (1960).

The DVD from Paramount is a high quality anamorphic transfer from a recent release. There is some noticeable film grain and a picture that tends towards softness. Colors are bright but not strongly saturated, there are no distracting digital artifacts, and only a small bit of dirt flecks or flaws. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY does have a dark cast to it, even in the brightest outdoor shots, which may or may not be an intentional decision of cinematography. The audio is excellent. Rear surrounds are used sparingly for atmospheric support, as is the subwoofer. Action is primarily in the front, with a nicely wide and deep soundstage. The instrumental score and jazz tunes are reproduced with clarity and zest, particularly in the smoky club scenes. Dialogue is clearly understood.

Extras are plentiful, especially considering some of Paramount's past bare-bones releases. The 20 minute featurette is a decent mix of interviews, behind the scenes looks, and promotional material. A short (8 minutes) soundtrack featurette is a notch higher, as it looks at a sometimes overlooked facet of filmmaking and is less afflicted by PR fluff. The two music videos, "My Funny Valentine" and "Tu Vuo' Fa L'Americano", are a bit underwhelming, as they are entirely made from edited sequences from the movie itself. Two trailers for the film are oddly matted to a more narrow aspect ratio than the movie itself. Finally, the feature length commentary by writer/director Anthony Minghella is solid and packed with insight into the writing, acting, and production of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.

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