Rated R - Running Time: 2:19 - Released 12/25/99

Matt Damon has certainly skyrocketed to the top with a minumum of fuss. After his Oscar-winning work in Good Will Hunting, such projects as Saving Private Ryan and Dogma showed he was no fluke, and at the tender age of 30 he already has several projects under way for 2000. Similar words could be said of 27-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow: after delightful turns in Emma and Sliding Doors, Paltrow has gone up against screen greats Jessica Lange (Hush) and Michael Douglas (A Perfect Murder), and even secured her own statuette for her fantastic performance in last year's Shakespeare In Love. It's only natural that these two would be paired together sooner or later to warm up the nation's box office cash registers. And so they are in Paramount/Miramax's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Writer/director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) has crafted a dark thriller based on the novel by the late Patricia Highsmith about spoiled, wealthy socialites, identity-stealing, and homosexuality. Cha-ching.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is creepy and suspenseful, and well-acted, but too long. A little judicious cutting on the part of Minghella would have done wonders for the final product. As it is, the film meanders through a circuitous route to arrive at a finish that defies logic.

Tom Ripley (Damon) is a restroom attendant at a fancy New York hotel who is mistaken for a Princeton graduate by wealthy shipyard owner Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn). Thinking Tom must know his son Dickie (Jude Law), who also went to Princeton, he pays him $1,000 to travel to Italy and persuade the young playboy to return to the U.S. Upon arriving, Tom pretends to be Dickie's former classmate, and soon becomes friends with the young man and his fiancée, Marge Sherwood (Paltrow). However, Tom's propensity for forging signatures and impersonating people soon leads to a confusing situation in which Dickie turns up missing and Tom begins controlling his affairs. Then a friend of Dickie's is murdered, and Marge begins to suspect the worst: that Tom killed both men and is now masquerading as Dickie, living off his considerable wealth.

Damon, Paltrow, and Law are all excellent; the three-way relationship they establish is both easy and tense, at different times for different reasons. Paltrow, especially, puts forth a performance powerful enough to generate another possible nomination for her this year. Law, seen before in Gattaca and Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, clearly shows he's comfortable with much larger share of screen time than previously accorded him. Damon's work, always reliable, is as solid as ever. Also on hand is Cate Blanchett, another excellent young actress with an Oscar nomination already under her belt for last year's Elizabeth. Blanchett plays Meredith Logue, an acquaintance whose appearance threatens to unravel Tom's intricate web of deception. Another good supporting performance is put in by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Scent Of A Woman, Twister), re-creating his stock role as the conceited jerk.

Minghella's direction of this film is well thought out, with many subtle symbols involving mirrors and multiple images embedded in the rich background of beautiful Italian scenery. John Seale's cinematography must also be credited for this, making the most of the beautiful setting and allowing Minghella to contrast it with the film's dark tone. Although the last scene leaves us with some credibility problems, The Talented Mr. Ripley is mostly an enjoyably taut thriller. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive