Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley, a seemingly content New Yorker who by chance meets Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) at a party. It seems Mr. Greenleaf has a son named Dickie (Jude Law) who is living in Italy with his girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Mr. Greenleaf wants his son to come back to America and take over the family shipping business, so he hired Ripley to go to Italy and bring his son back. Ripley agrees and proceeds to learn as much as he can about Dickie, to try and entice him back. But instead, once Ripley enters the lives of Dickie and Marge, he become enamored by them, and ends up staying with them. But when he ends up staying too long, and Dickie tells him to leave, things get violent, and soon Ripley is no longer just himself. What follows is the story of a man who in his own words feels "it's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody."
So here's my problem. And I apologize if I give away too much of the story, I'll try not to. There is nothing in the early part of the film that shows Tom having a bad life. Yes he works as a bathroom attendant. Yes he has a crappy New York apartment (who doesn't really?). But he seems content. The brief opening sequence in New York doesn't show him to be unhappy at all. It does show him to be adept at lying, and also seeming to enjoy doing it. So he accepts this job in Italy. Whether it was for the money or for the chance to travel, I suppose it doesn't matter. When he meets Dickie and Marge, he falls for one of them. Is he straight, or is he gay? Early on we're not sure, but it comes out more and more throughout the film. Then things happen and he assumes the life of Dickie Greenleaf, while at the same time being Tom Ripley. And here's where things get interesting, or annoying, depending on how you felt about the film. Tom never seemed smart enough to pull something like this off. He can forge signatures, and even do uncanny impressions, but I never saw anything in him that made him smart enough to fool all sorts of people into thinking he was someone else. When the police come into the picture, and Tom has to pretend to be Dickie in front of them, be Tom in front of Marge, be Dickie in front of an American woman he met on the ship (Cate Blanchett), why don't the police ever use a picture? If they suspect Tom killed Dickie, or Dickie killed Tom, or one of them killed Freddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman), why don't they get a picture of Tom and Dickie and show them to people? I never understood that. By the end of the movie (which takes way too long to get to), Tom has managed to have everything go his way, almost. It ends on a strange note, with not a whole lot resolved.
Did I mention what my problem was? Hmm... maybe not. OK, so here's one problem. While the story was a good idea, I didn't feel it was done all that well. I never found an explanation for why Tom did what he did. Was he annoyed with his life back in New York and just wanted a change? Was he an opportunist who took over Dickie's life for the money? Was he a ruthless killer who just enjoyed killing people? Was he a scared boy who didn't know what he was doing? After thinking about it, maybe it was all of the above. I also felt that the rest of the people in the movie had to be complete idiots to not figure some of the things out. The fact that Dickie and Tom looked different never seemed to matter. Again, the fact that the police never looked at photographs of the two of them never seemed to matter. Or that Tom continued taking money out of Dickie's accounts. Maybe the Italian police force is just a bunch of morons. The American detective seemed to find out things, but even he just believed Tom. Everyone wanted to believe Tom Ripley, even though no one knew who the hell he was.
Aside from being a rather long and at times boring movie, I thought there were some fine acting jobs. Philip Seymour Hoffman did a tremendous job, and whenever he showed up on screen I was entertained. And I thought Jude Law did a great job as well. Matt Damon didn't really do it for me, and Gwyneth Paltrow's character I thought was underused. I thought she could have helped drive the story a little better, but evidently they felt that Matt Damon's character could carry the entire film on his back. I also loved the jazz music that they kept playing, and the Italian scenery and interiors looked amazing.
So overall, The Talented Mr. Ripley was just an OK film. In my opinion it wasn't one of the top 10 films of the year as many people have been saying. It had an interesting idea that I felt wasn't carried out well. It had some fine acting performances, and a good soundtrack. But in the end it was lacking the entertainment value I look for in films. This is probably a good film to rent on those nights where you feel you want to watch a mainstream art film that you missed in the theaters.
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Shakespeare in Love
A Perfect Murder
Midnight in the
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