Alfred Hitchcock is perhaps the single most copied director of all time. He created a style of thriller and suspense that forever defined those genres and influenced every director thereafter who tried his or her hand at making a suspense thriller. The most notable of these filmmakers who comes the closest to replicating Hitchcock’s style is Brian De Palma (Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Femme Fatale, and The Black Dahlia). You can almost say that De Palma doesn’t even have his own style as he’s practically lifted his technique from Hitchcock. There have been many other filmmakers who have also attempted with varying success to make a “Hitchcockian” thriller. Of everything I have seen, The Talented Mr. Ripley is the single best movie that can truly be described as being Hitchcockian on every level. It’s a thriller, its suspenseful, its psychological, and it enters the world of the privileged that Hitchcock so loved to fuck with in his movies.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is about a poor young man named Tom Ripley (Matt Damon). We don’t know anything about his past other than that he works as a piano tuner at Princeton University. He longs to enter the exclusive world of privileged high society. Having no way of doing so, he settles instead for getting as close as he can by filling in as a piano player at society functions and accepting tips from old rich men as a bathroom attendant. One day, Ripley finally gets his big break. Following a piano recital gig, a shipping magnate notices Ripley wearing a borrowed Princeton jacket and asks him if he knew his son at Princeton. Thinking fast, Ripley replies that he did. The man then offers to send Ripley to Italy to find his son and bring him back with all expenses paid. Ripley accepts the offer and heads off to Italy where he finds the man’s son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), who is living with his fiancé, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), in a small Italian village. Ripley gets accepted into Dickie and Marge’s world and he soon finds himself living the life he’s always dreamed of with, of course, the help of Dickie’s father’s money. Ripley begins to develop a close relationship with Dickie and he soon finds himself infatuated with everything about Dickie. However, Dickie begins to lose interest in Ripley and he grows cold and resentful towards him. Things finally reach a head and the two get into an argument that results in Ripley murdering Dickie. Hiding Dickie’s body, Ripley decides to adopt Dickie’s identity. From this point on the film takes a different direction as Ripley travels through a downward spiral of deception and murder.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a very stylish film that much reminds me of the classy, star-studded pictures put out by Hollywood during its Golden Age. The late and great director, Anthony Minghella paints this film with a brush. His style is meticulous in the details and manner that he presents the world to the audience and how he unravels the story for us. This is a long movie and some critics have faulted it for its length, but its long for good reason. No shot is wasted and unlike most of the mediocre summer movies that have come out this year, Minghella eases the audience into the world he’s crafted. He allows the story and the characters to settle upon you so that by the end of the film, you feel like you have spent years with the characters. As should be the intention of every film, The Talented Mr. Ripley actually succeeds in transporting you somewhere else for 2 hours.

The character of Tom Ripley is one of the most fascinating I have seen in recent years. Instead of being someone who starts off as a killer or someone who possesses killer tendencies, Ripley is pretty much a normal guy who first kills almost out of necessity. He doesn’t enjoy killing people, but he deems it necessary in order to survive. However, what really makes me like his character is when we see him contemplate how he’s going to get out of his messes. He doesn’t have the forethought to know exactly what to do in every situation. He figures things out as he goes along and we the audience go on that journey with him. This film is a great example for anyone studying character development because Minghella does a wonderful job in transforming the character and showing his gradual journey from Point A to Point B. For that, the audience does not hate Ripley despite his deeds. Because we have seen Ripley become into what he is, we are growing with him and we want to see how far he’s going to get. You want to see him get away with it and that’s an achievement unto itself for the writer and director.

As great as Matt Damon is as Tom Ripley, this movie belongs to Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf. There is a line in the film that perfectly describes his character. Paltrow’s Marge is trying to consol Ripley’s hurt feelings after Greenleaf begins to neglect him. In describing Greenleaf, Marge says, “The thing with Dickie… it’s like the sun shines on you, and it’s glorious. And then he forgets you and it’s very, very cold.” Greenleaf is basically a privileged, snobby asshole who has a high degree of self-entitlement. His loyalty to people lasts so long as he remains interested in them. Nevertheless, Greenleaf’s exuberance and intensity for life makes everyone want to be around him, including Ripley. Jude Law perfectly inhabits this character and I cannot imagine another actor playing this role. With his perfect looks and magnetic charm, Law has a dominating presence in the first half of the movie before he gets killed. This is all the more fitting given the fact that he’s playing a character that everyone is attracted to. In the hands of a lesser actor, the film could have easily faltered once Law is out of the picture. Fortunately, Damon handily picks up the slack for the remainder of the film and Minghella’s sure directing hand maintains the course of the movie.

In the presence of such a high-caliber cast as Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gwyneth Paltrow could have easily been forgotten in this movie. Her character, Marge, doesn’t have the flamboyance and flashiness of the other characters. Marge is a nice, quiet, intelligent young woman who lives in an unexciting world of privilege and money. She is shielded by life’s harsh realities and ugliness. For her, a stressful day consists of figuring out where to vacation for Christmas. Once again, Minghella’s casting is pitch perfect and I could not imagine anyone else playing Marge. Maybe its because she was raised in Hollywood society, but Paltrow possesses the sophisticated, elegant look of a girl born to wealth. At first glance it doesn’t appear that she has as much to work with as the other actors, but where she really shines is in the 2nd half of the movie. SPOILER ALERT: Marge unravels emotionally in the 2nd half as her world falls apart. Ironically, for someone who was the first to accept Ripley into the high society fold, she is the only person by the end of the film to know Ripley killed Greenleaf. Paltrow has some great moments in the 2nd half and she reminded me a lot of Grace Kelly, one of Hitchcock’s favorite actresses.

Two smaller roles deserve brief mention mostly because they are played by two of the greatest actors working in Hollywood today. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Miles, Greenleaf’s best friend. Miles is an obnoxious, crude fellow who doesn’t hide his opinions from people. He is on to Ripley immediately and Ripley becomes intimidated by this. Hoffman sort of reprises his preppy dick role from Scent of a Woman, but he’s more intimidating and bullyish. Cate Blanchett plays the jetset daughter of another wealthy New York family. Blancett feigns a disinterest in the trappings of her life and moans how money has forced her to travel in secret. At the same time, she indulges in the lifestyle that money allows her to maintain. Blanchett is wonderful in this role and you see a small glimpse of her later role as Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

Like any timeless classic, The Talented Mr. Ripley is the kind of movie that withstands the test of time. Anthony Minghella channels Alfred Hitchcock and delivers a masterfully crafted piece of cinema that ranks among the best film noir psychological thrillers of all time. Its too bad Minghella died at an early age as his voice was one that few directors these days are able to match in caliber.

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