The Stylish Beat of the Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley in his very best performance to date

When I think of style personified in modern film, the very underrated The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of the very first things that come to mind. The mentally perverted film by director Anthony Minghella is his very best workin a career that includes a Best Picture winner (1996’s The English Patient). Matt Damon shines as the conniving, charming and very deadly Mr. Tom Ripley, who is consumed by the glamorous life of American socialites in the 1950s.

The fast cuts and classic jazz quickly transports viewers to 1950s New York City where we meet the titular antagonist Mr. Tom Ripley, playing the piano at a lush society party. There, he makes acquaintances with Mr. Greenleaf, a rich American business tycoon. Greenleaf takes sudden interest in Tom when he lies that he and his son Dickie (Jude Law) went to the same Ivy League.

Tom Ripley is sent to 1950s Italy to bring back the reckless son a wealthy businessman
Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf and Gwyneth Paltrow as Marge Sherwood in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Sick and tired of his son’s spoiled and womanizing ways, Mr. Greenleaf asks a favour of Tom — to bring Dickie back to the U.S., away from his luxurious life in a small Italian town where he spends the days burning money and relaxing on his yacht with girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow). The lonely Tom  Ripley immediately takes the offer and is flown off to a world he is unfamiliar with, making quick friends with the young and wealthy Americans residing in Europe, producing lie after lie to create the new life that he’s always longed for.

Tom (Matt Damon) is confronted by socialite Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) when his lies finally catch up to him

Eventually, Tom’s lies catch up to him when his infatuations for Dickie’s way of life begins to play with his unstable mind. As Tom’s psychopath begins to grow within him, he decides that he will take any measure to emulate and take Dickie’s life from him. Without the knowledge of others, Tom has one ultimate secret that sets him apart from everyone else: despite his pathetic and meekly nature, he is a gifted, two-faced conman with too much ambition.

Damon, plays Ripley to perverted perfection, a way that Alain Delon (who starred in the original version of the film Purple Noon in 1960) could not even imagine doing. The meekly nature of Damon’s acting, compared to Jude Law’s confidence and boyish Dickie Greenleaf creates chemistry hard to match in any motion picture that year. The pathetic ways of Ripley (which is the definition of creepy), allows Damon to give a career best performance. Though this character has been conceived on both page and screen before, Damon acts as if the role is tailor made for him, leaving all his fears at the doorway. This is an impressive follow-up to his star making performance in 1997’s Good Will Hunting.


ripley 6
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) quickly changes from glamorous to twisted within minutes

Minghella assembles one of the best ensembles of the 1990s. He fills his cast with gifted actors that make every role (even the tiniest) in Mr. Ripley count. I often consider this cast to be one of my all time favourites – Damon, Law, Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Jack Davenport comprise of the principal roles.

Law is the immediate standout between the players. The weakest in the cast, Paltrow, is still very good and brings to the table what she can in an underwritten role. Cate Blanchett plays her guesting role of socialite Meredith Logue to extreme and naive charm. While Davenport’s classy and trusting Peter Smith-Kingsley felt genuine and underused. Props to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays bad boy socialite Freddie Miles, the one character not in awe of Mr. Ripley.

mr ripley murder scene
Tom Ripley takes his obsession to be accepted in society another level in turning point of the 1999 drama

As elegant and charming the film sounds, do not be fooled. Prepare for an ultimate blood bath of both the figurative and literal nature. Hearts race and thrills are high as Mr. Ripley does not hold back his passion for killing. The Anthony Minghella screenplay will keep you on your toes, as The Talented Mr. Ripley quickly changes from an elegant con artist to a crazy, murderous lead. Gabriel Yared’s Oscar nominated score is a jazzy dream, and Walter Murch’s editing beats the drum fast.

Jude Law was nominated for his first Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

The film lost all five of it’s Oscar nominations (Supporting Actor for Law, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design and Score) but it deserved more accolades then it received. Blanchett should have easily taken an nomination for Supporting Actress, and Damon reigned supreme in a category he wasn’t even nominated in. The film’s artistic achievements should have won, but was unfortunately overshadowed by Tim Burton’s gothically stylized version of Sleepy Hallow. This does not change any of Mr. Ripley’s fine artistic merits, because it has grown to be classier as the years go by.

Minghella’s world is a handsome look at a very depressing type of human condition that pushes you over the edge to achieve something unattainable if born under a different circumstance. In a world of elegance and fine things, the film dives into a horrid obsession that gets bloodier as the hours pass. The glitter will not fool you, but The Talented Mr. Ripley will. My personal choice of the Best Film of 1999, hands down. It beats to its own stylish drum.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on my film blog, when CHINOMATOGRAPHY was offline for a year.

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