The Talented Mr. Ripley
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Talented Mr. Ripley, The (DVD)
After the Oscar-winning The English Patient, writer/director Anthony Min ghella attempted another tricky literary adaptation with The Talented M r. Ripley, which features heartthrob Matt Damon cast against type as a p sychopathic bisexual murderer. Tom Ripley (Damon) is a bright and chari smatic sociopath who makes his way in mid-'50s New York City as a men's room attendant and sometimes pianist, though his real skill is in impers onating other people, forging handwriting, and running second-rate scams . After being mistaken for a Princeton student, Tom meets the shipping tycoon father of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), who has traveled to the co ast of Italy, w here he's living a carefree life with his father's money and his beautiful girlfriend, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Dickie's father will pay Ripley 1,000 dollars plus his expenses if he can persuade Dick ie to return to America. As Ripley and Dickie become friends, Tom finds himself both attracted to Dickie and envious of his life of pleasure. I n time, he decides that he would rather be Dickie Gree nleaf than Tom Ri pley, so rather than go back to his life of poverty, Ripley impulsively murders Dickie and assumes his identity. Th e Talented Mr. Ripley was ba sed on the first of a series of novels featuring Tom Ripley written by P atricia Highsmith; the story was previously filmed in 1960 as Purple No on, with Alain Delon as Ripley.]]>
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Warning: lots of spoilers below. Do not read unless you're familiar in detail with the book and the two movies mentioned above.
Broadly and very roughly speaking, ludicrous as this may sound, it seems to me that Anthony Minghella's version is slightly closer to the book in terms of minor plot details, whereas Rene Clement's adaptation is much truer in terms of characters. But this is surely an oversimplification, for both movies could hardly have been more different; apart from the names of the main characters, I think all scenes they share are the two murders and Tom's having fun with Dickie's clothes in his room and in front of his mirror, and even here there are many small differences. Curiously, in both cases the director is also the author of the screenplay, though Rene Clement is actually a co-screenwriter. This is all for the better: adaptation of a novel for the screen is largely a matter of personal vision, and so is the final movie: if, then, the director and the screenwriter are the same man, or at least different sides of one man, we may expect an excellent collaboration between them.
I have to admit that Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley has been growing on me recently. The first time I saw it, a good many years ago, I didn't like it at all. Later I was swept off my feet by Plein Soleil and I still think it is by far the better movie, but now I also have a great deal of admiration for Minghella's adaptation. I still don't like Matt Damon's horse face and I still think he is by way of being a miscast, but his performance is not without merit either. He has some haunting lines which he delivers in a memorable way:
'If I could just go back... if I could rub everything out... starting with myself.'
'I always thought it'd be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.'
Don't you just take the past and put it in a room in a basement and lock the door and never go in there? That's what I do. [...] And then you meet someone special and all you want to do is to toss them the key and say; open up, step inside, but you can't, because it's dark, There's demons and if anybody saw how ugly it is. I keep wanting to do that, fling the door open just let light in and clean everything out.
Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn't it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they're a bad person.
Stirring lines. I don't remember any of them in the novel, so I guess Anthony Minghella should be given credit for them. And not a negligible one too. His adaptation also has few additional original touches that are delightful. The passion for music - jazz for Dickie, classical for Tom - is ever more convincing than the original painting in the novel. The scene in the opera house is one of the most dramatic and brilliantly done in the whole movie; the exceprt from Tchaikovsky's Evgeny Onegin is beautifully staged and deeply moving. Minghella also makes an excellent use of the rather sketchy in the novel Peter Smith-Kingsley and introduces Meredith who seems to be a completely original character but fits into the action to perfection. So is the episode with Silvana.
The fascinating thing about Minghella's version is that the character of Tom Ripley which Matt Damon has to recreate in the movie is vastly different than the one in the novel. He is certainly not the cold-blooded murderer calculating everything with frightening calmness; indeed the killing of Dickie is almost an accident, a kind of self-defence. This Tom Ripley is much more vulnerable and sensitive creature than the one in Patricia's book. He manages adroitly the deceiving game and he kills swiftly when he has to, as in the case of Freddie Miles, but he still seems to me a rather pathetic creature much more worthy of sympathy than of fear. The only drawback to the character as far as I am concerned are the hints about homosexuality. It is very briefly mentioned in the novel and it is entirely missing from Clement's version. Rightly so, since the sexual orientation has nothing to do with the most fascinating sides of Tom Ripley's character. Homosexual or not, such elements make him more human and thus more believable, perhaps, but certainly less compelling.
The endings of both movies are hugely different, yet both are in their own way chilling. The Talented Mr Ripley finishes with Murder No. 3, conveyed only by sound, and an ingenious shot showing the transformation of Matt Damon's profile from brightly lit to pitch dark and then closing a door until the whole screen turns black, certainly a stroke of genius on Minghella's side. The murderer gets away but I can't help feeling sorry for him. How long can he go on like this, knowing not who he really is, constantly threatened by the circumstances, with wrecked nerves and full of paranoid obsessions? Is the price too high for him? Will he get away next time? Is it worth it? Difficult questions.
By contrast, in the end of Plein Soleil Tom Ripley is caught by the police. This ending has been much disparaged, including by Patricia herself, as unnecessarily changed to satisfy the popular taste that the criminal must be punished and all that sort of thing. I don't see it that way. To begin with, Rene Clement's stratagem to get Tom caught and his directing the scene are nothing short of perfect. Who would have thought that, having apparently won everything, Tom would fall in the hands of police because of such tiny detail? The scene of his arrest is carefully prepared but the arrest itself is completely missing, substituted by a lovely picture of beach and sea. The sun is shining brightly but you feel cold inside - by ''you'' I mean of course I.
Now Tom Ripley in Plein Soleil is the Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, only considerably simplified for the screen of course. He doesn't kill Dickie almost by accident but after serious contemplation and with stunning decisiveness. It is not for nothing that the weapon is changed here - it is indeed a weapon, a big knife, instead of the oar used in the other movie and in the book as well. The performance of Alain Delon, absurdly young and even more absurdly beautiful at the time, is superb at all fronts, infinitely superior to anything Matt Damon is capable of; but, then again, as mentioned earlier, the latter has quite another fish to fry. But Delon conveys the ruthlessness and the especially the charm of Tom Ripley in a way that may well freeze one's blood. Pity that his amazing beauty often leads to gross underestimation of his acting skills, which are considerable indeed. Some of the most unforgettable scenes are Tom's training Dickie's signature or forging his passport and their conversations on the yacht immediately before the murder: all these plot details are strokes of genius, superbly acted and perceptively directed. Moreover such nuances add verisimilitude that is missing in Minghella's adaptation or Patricia's original; the presumption that Tom and Dickie are so much alike that one can use the passport of the other, even under the scrutiny of a police officer, is a trifle too fanciful to be believed by the demanding reader.
The main advantages of Minghella's movie are his absolutely gorgeous sets, both in San Remo and Rome (the former omitted in Clement's version) and especially the marvellous supporting cast. Gwyneth Paltrow is fine as the vacuous Marge, the looks she shots Tom when she realises the truth are unforgettable, and Jude Law gives a powerful performance as the flippant and gay Dickie Greenleaf, though his character is perhaps a trifle overdone in this respect. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the vulgar and bumptious Freddie Miles, Cate Blanchett as the silly, pretty and mentally unstable Meredith, and Jack Davenport as the handsome, homosexual and charming Peter Smith-Kingsley are all excellent; interestingly, the last two characters are missing from the other movie (and Meredith is missing from the book, for that matter). The only slight disappointment is James Rebhorn as Dickie's father and Philip Baker Hall as the detective, again both largely missing from Clement's version. Perhaps the most serious flaw in Minghella's screenplay (as well as in the book's plot) is indeed the episode with the detective. It is difficult to believe that such a smart guy, who has discovered so much from scratch, should really fail to see and find proof that it was exactly Tom Ripley who killed both Dickie Greenleaf and Freddie Miles (in defence of the book, the detective there strikes Tom as only ''moderately bright'', which he apparently is). But the sets are truly incomparable! The glittering glamour and the dolce vita that American expatriates led in Italy from the 1950s are captured to perfection.
This is what Plein Soleil most painfully misses: visual glamour. Not only is the San Remo episode skipped, but the sets in Rome and Naples are as drab as anything and the camera work is rather poor most of the time; perhaps one is unwise to expect more from a French movie released in 1960; those shaking shots of yacht scenes are vividly realistic, to be sure, but the Rome philandering of Tom and Dickie (here called Philip) are rather amateurishly done. That said, the only real disappointment among the cast is Billy Kearns as Freddie Miles; he is sufficiently arrogant, but not quite as tasteless as this particular Princeton graduate is expected to be. Marie Laforet is an excellent Marge - common and cute - and her quarrel with Philip makes his disappearance later much more plausible; the change of heart that Minghella and Highsmith try to make us believe Tom would use just does not carry conviction. After Alain Delon's magnificent performance, my personal Oscar for best actor goes to Maurice Ronet who is an outstanding Philip Greenleaf, way superior to Jude Law and indeed much more suitably presented in the screenplay, not as somebody determined not to go back, but as an eternally vacillating fellow not quite serious enough to make up his own mind, perhaps unconsciously seduced by the easy life in Southern Italy.
The only drawbacks in Clement's screenplay is the populist attraction of Tom to Marge: it has the same detrimental effect as the homosexuality in the Minghella's movie. It is entirely out of character, indeed it detracts from the character, and is rightly never mentioned in the book; Minghella's version makes only one short and insignificant mention of it (in that great scene when Tom was about to cut Marge's throat). Apart from that, it would perhaps have been nice if the first part of the movie - until the first murder - had been extended a little bit more, especially considering the great performance of Maurice Ronet.
At any rate, the two movies are so vastly different that both are well worth watching. Though they, I suspect, can make the book less compelling than it might otherwise be, Patricia Highsmith's novel remains a very enjoyable read. Despite occasional tedium and clumsiness, it has at least two major advantages over either of the movies: it gives a way deeper and more amazing insight into Tom Ripley's confused yet fascinating mind; and the plot is a great deal more complicated and suspenseful.
In the movie, this is done on a boat (as it is in the book) but almost as an act of self-defense. Dickie, whom Ripley (who is a closeted homosexual at a time when it wasn't wise to be anything but closeted) has grown to love. When Dickie rejects him, and tells him he's going to marry Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) and leans over him with his fists in the air, Ripley commits a crime of passion, or even may have done it out of fear. In the book, it's calculated and planned, though still done as an act of rebellion after Dickie rejects him.
Minghella seemed to feel he couldn't have a protagonist with THAT much of a sociopathic nature, so made him a man who seems to utterly regret his impulsive act, even to the point of trying to help Dickie before Dickie begins to attack him. At the end, Ripley has to kill again, and again he's devastated by it. This is not Highsmith's character.
That said, if you can look at the movie not as an adaptation but a stand alone movie, it is a very good one, with excellent acting and luscious scenery. Matt Damon apparently got some bad reviews when this came out, but I don't know why. I found him the perfect Ripley - with his boyish innocent face and nervous demeanor, who would suspect him of murder? The Ripley of the book isn't suave, and neither is Damon. He should have gotten more credit for his performance.
Paltrow and Jude Law are fine as the patrician expats, with their pale skin, blonde hair, and money. Paltrow lends the right amount of the dorkishness of Highsmith's character, and adds her own suspicion. Law is Dickie as he is in the book - a charismatic charmer who can turn on you in an instant. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the lout overweight garish American pal Freddie Miles, who has his suspicions too, perfectly.
Just as a lie requires another lie to cover up the previous lie, this movie shows that a murder requires another murder (and a third, implied, murder) to cover up the previous murder. This is basically Cain and Able. If I wanted to read/watch a story such as this, I'd read the Bible.
If you liked this movie, you are sick as hell and headed there as well. Go repent you moronic fools - or as the muslims would call you "infidels".
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