Wednesday, December 22, 2010
#10: The Talented Mr. Ripley
It's a classic. Period.
With that kind of a beginning to a review, I think am making things difficult for you as a reader and me as a writer. Nevertheless, I must let you know that I wrote that first line thinking that it would be a great disservice to take any time to praise The Talented Mr. Ripley.. It is here that I must also confess that since this falls in my favorite genre of crime, I might be a bit biased in my adulation towards this gem.
So the movie is adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel (she had also written Strangers on a Train) by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Breaking and Entering, Cold Mountain) who also directs it. Given that it is based on a book, it is clear from Anthony's commentary on the DVD that while he did bring his own touch to the screen, he's treated the original book as a Bible and any of those changes that have been are made deftly and in the spirit of deference to what essentially is a great novel.
The protagonist Tom Ripley, played so brilliantly by Matt Damon is a struggler doing odd jobs in the US. In a swift but fateful twist of circumstances Tom finds himself going to Europe and befriends the wealthy son of a shipping giant - The Greenleafs. Dickie Greenleaf essayed by Jude Law excels as the millionaire deviant playboy heir and his friendship with Tom Ripley, shot against the backdrop of 19th century Italy, becomes very thick in a short while. Just when all seems to be going well, Dickie Greenleaf realizes the imposter that Tom Ripley actually is and from that moment on, it's all edge-of-the-seat stuff.
And if the plot isn't mouth watering enough, you'll soon realize that there's not one character in the movie that you will want to have enough of. The highlight of the movie is the portrayal of Matt Damon - he is so likeable as Tom Ripley that although you realize that Tom is doing all the bad things in the movie, you do want him to get away with it. Now hand on your heart, who was the last villain, you felt like that for in the last 25 years ? How preciously rare must that writing be if it makes you feel so?
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Gwyeneth Paltrow play Dickie Greenleaf's best friend and fiancee and between them represent Dickie's fantastic easy-going life before Tom Ripley rips that world apart in no time. Needless to say, with their charm and craft, all these characters leave you yearning for more.
I can't finish this piece without commenting on two more elements that elevate this movie to a peak of cinematic excellence. First, the the exquisite background score by the oh-so-accomplished Gabriel Yared and the stunning photography by John Seale - both of whom have been long-time collaborators with Anthony Minghella. The ease with which the movie appears on screen, as if it's a glass of Montrachet being served exclusively for you, sure has a lot to do with all three of them working in unison. The emotions pour itself out on screen because the script, the shots and the score are in sync in every single frame.
I have seen the works of Jules Dassin, John Huston, Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, Otto Preminger and I have sampled enough and more of Hitchcock and Wilder so what I am about to write here, I would like to believe with a grain of vanity, is not an outcome of a limited study of the genre of crime. In my estimation, The Talented Mr. Ripley is as good a movie there ever was and is as good as any there will ever be.