Minghella pays homage to the master in his suspense thriller follow up to 'English Patient'
While "The Talented Mr. Ripley" may not quite qualify as a masterpiece of suspense, it certainly is the most skilled, engrossing homage to Alfred Hitchcock in ages.
Directed by Oscar winner Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") with many nods to the master of subtle, upscale thrillers, this picture boasts gorgeous, Italian seaside locations; layers of romantic Machiavellian intrigue; honest-to-goodness surprises that unfold before your eyes; a goose-pimply, Bernard Herrman-inspired score (by "Patient" composer Gabriel Yared); and a glamorous, talented cast that could give Hitchcock's favorite players a run for their money.
Jude Law ("eXistenZ," "Gattaca") plays Dickie Greenleaf, a handsome, trust fund playboy, living large on father's dime in an idyllic coastal village.
Gwyneth Paltrow (today's Grace Kelly) is Marge Sherwood, his beautiful, expatriate girlfriend.
And Matt Damon gets to stretch his acting muscles as Tom Ripley, a wildly deceptive hanger-on who conspires with psychopathic determination to insert himself into Dickie's life, and discard forever his working class background.
Of course, as with any good Everyman suspense story, it begins with a stroke of chance: Back in Boston, Tom is mistaken for a Princeton alumni by Dickie's blue-blooded father (James Rebhorn), an error he quickly exploits when the father offers him a all-expenses-paid trip to Italy, where Tom is to persuade Dickie (also a Princeton man) to come home.
Once in Italy, Tom befriends Dickie and Marge, but -- as the audience begins to slowly realize -- Ripley is not the kind of heroic Everyman who finds himself in over his head in such movies. He's obsessed with infiltrating every corner of Dickie's existence.
It's an obsession that soon becomes a twisted kind of unrequited love affair with deadly consequences when Dickie gets bored with Tom's company and tosses him aside.
This is the most shaded performance of Damon's career, full of enigma and subtle revelations that come to haunt the other characters as Tom spins a precarious web of deceit after Dickie disappears, then begins to assume his life -- which is really all Tom craved in the first place.
But Dickie's boorish pal Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) isn't buying the cover story. He's never trusted the sycophant Tom in the first place, and it's not long before Marge becomes suspicious as well.
Then there's the beautiful socialite Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett) -- a girl Tom has convinced he is Dickie -- who becomes a threat to his escalating deception, leading him toward even more drastic measures as he resolves to hang on to his newfound existence.
Minghella's doesn't have quite a firm enough grip on his command of the suspense in "Ripley," so the movie never completely engages the audience's adrenaline. There's also a few times you may find yourself second guessing Tom Ripley when he fails to take the path of least resistance as he covers his tracks. But Minghella spins a captivating yarn nonetheless, so you'll still be more than willing to go along for the ride.
The director adapted the script from the 1955 novel by Patricia Highsmith -- whose "Strangers On a Train" became one of Hitchcock's most disquieting classics. He has embellished a bit (for example, the homosexual undertones are far more amplified than they were in the book), but he wisely still staged the story in the late 1950s, allowing him to develop an even more acute Hitchcockian atmosphere, infuse the film with a dollop of delicious jazz music, and put Paltrow and Blanchett in some stunning dresses.
There's been a lot of Academy Award buzz for "The Talented Mr. Ripley." I don't think I'd rank it in the Oscar-caliber category, but taken for what it is -- an attempt to revive the spirit of Technicolor Hitchcockian noir -- it's aces.
By the way, if you're the compare-and-contrast type, you might want to note that Highsmith's novel was filmed once before in 1960 as "Purple Noon."