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IN SHORT: The only thing missing is the McGuffin [Rated [R], 140 minutes]
Film buffs already know from that "in short" line what is coming next, for Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley may be the best Alfred Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made. The source material is a novel by the late Patricia Highsmith; an earlier novel was adapted for Hitch's Strangers on a Train.
Everything that we could take for granted in a Hitchcock-type wannabe flick (and Brian DePalma has made lots of those) is here: mistaken identities, murder, an incredible amount of sexual tension and ordinary people dwarfed by imposing settings. The Talented Mr. Ripley luxuriates in all of this. It is wrapped in 50s jazz; the hot sounds of Bird and Dizzy in the night clubs; the cool, smoky, asexual sound of Chet Baker's vocals on My Funny Valentine. The settings take you up and down the Italian coast, the stomping ground of the blueblood kidlets who would be called the Jet Set just a few years on. Watching Ripley is like wrapping yourself in silk, until you wonder what that scratchy feeling is and discover in horror that. . .
In the year 1958, meet Herbert Richard Greenleaf I (James Rebhorn), his wife Emily (Lisa Eichorn) is wheelchair bound and his son "Dickie" if off gallivanting in Italy with his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow). At a recital in a Park Avenue salon, Mr. Greenleaf meets Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), wearing a Princeton jacket, who is just the right age to have been at that school at the same time as Dickie. Greenleaf offers Ripley a "job". He is to go to Italy, expenses paid, and convince Dickie to return to the States and take his rightful place at his father's side. There's a $1000 payment in it if he succeeds.
Unknown to the senior Greenleaf is the fact that Tom Ripley is a bathroom attendant at a Manhattan theater. He lives in a basement apartment underneath an industrial strength butcher in New York's meat packing district. His only talents, aside from the ability to play piano, are "forging signatures, telling lies and doing impressions of people" which he admits to Dickie when they meet on the Italian coast. Ripley has prepared himself well for his assignment, but finds it is a lot more fun to play the double agent once he spills the beans, living off his expense money while clubbing around with his new best friends Dickie and Marge. After all, the grass is greener on the other side. . .
. . . and Dickie is just so damned cute.
There always was a strong eroticism running through Hitchcock's work. An off the cuff line by Paltrow's character "It's a good thing we're not getting married. We'd have to take Tom on the honeymoon." is about as far as Hitchcock could have gone, but Minghella is freer today to make the homoerotic elements of Ripley's attraction to Dickie plain as day. And, no, there is no gay sex and this is not a gay story. It's a story of a poor man who creates himself in the image of a rich man and decides he wants to be the image instead of the reality. In doing so, certain instincts emerge. The greatest of them all is not sexual, it is survival. When the senior Greenleaf calls the deal off and Dickie kicks Tom loose -- calling him a third class leech -- things get really honest and, as revealed in the teevee spot, bloody.
So here is Tom Ripley, liar, forger and Dickie lookalike carefully taking on the persona of his former friend. His impersonation goes so deep that it includes an attraction to Marge, even as the new "Dickie" does his best to stay away from the haunts of the rich. Which brings us to two more important characters: Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an arrogant and suspicious bon vivant with a red sports car, a devil may care attitude and a "string of fiancées" so long it'll be at least a decade if he comes out of the closet; Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett) who, like the "Dickie Greenleaf" she meets coming off the Queen Mary and picking up his luggage at the "R" section, likes to travel "under her mother's name". This very rich daughter of a textile magnate, who will date "Dickie" later in the flick, could be the spoiler in Ripley's spontaneous identity change. She runs with the same crowd and it can only be a matter of time before someone figures out that her "Dickie" and Marge's "Tom" are one and the same. There are other characters and twists to the plot, both before and after that eventual meeting. You'll have to discover those for yourself and watch carefully as the police close in.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a "thriller" with a capital T.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Talented Mr. Ripley, he would have paid...
A great, adult flick, all across the board. If Chet Baker were still alive to see how his music is used in this movie, well, the Chet Baker I knew would just smile.
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