The Talented Mr. Ripley

Originally written January 10, 2000

The last time we saw a movie directed by Anthony Minghella, it captured the world with its grandeur, scope, intimacy and complexity. That was The English Patient, maybe you remember it. Well, if you loved The English Patient, you’ll love Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair much more than Minghella’s latest project The Talented Mr. Ripley, but there are definitely elements in Ripley that will remind you of English Patient, and, fortunately, they are those same elements of scope, intimacy and complexity that made that earlier Best Picture winner so rich.

I always feel it’s unfair to put American actors in films like this. Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes had that certain cultured European air that gave The English Patient its mystery and depth. There are strong American actors, that goes without saying, but, let’s face it, Tom Hanks couldn’t have carried off The English Patient. Which is why I was skeptical going in when I learned that American Matt Damon was being called on to carry the weight of Ripley, in the title role. Even though the character himself is American, the story calls for a strength I didn’t believe Damon had. All that being said, Damon does a fine job playing the American conniver who moves from small lies to large deceits, but he still is overshadowed by the English actor Jude Law, who steals the movie even from Minghella’s brilliant direction and John Seale’s cinematography. You almost enjoy looking at Law more than you do the gorgeous southern Italian scenery, his character is so seductive, charming and full of life. Law does outperform both Damon and co-star Gwyneth Paltrow, but fine performances are turned in by all, with an especially creepy performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is having the year of his career.

As for the story, it is complex and manages to surprise at every turn, although a suspension of disbelief is a required tool. But despite the momentary lapses of believability, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a lush, beautifully shot and beautifully acted film that will keep you glued. Look for Jude Law to nab a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

My rating: *** = worth paying full price