Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Rebhorn, Philip Baker Hall
Written by: Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith
Directed by: Anthony Minghella
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 139
Date: 12/12/1999
IMDB

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wasted Talent

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Perhaps the most striking thing about The Talented Mr. Ripley is the music by Gabriel Yared, which is designed to sound like a vintage Bernard Herrmann score for an Alfred Hitchcock film. It has echoes of Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). The movie itself has a few Hitchcockian moments, most noticeably in the opening titles, as the picture dissipates into shards of different colors. But comparisons to Hitchcock stop there. The Master of Suspense would never have turned in a movie this sloppy.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is directed by Anthony Minghella who helmed the wonderful ghost-romance Truly Madly Deeply (1991) and the bloated and boring The English Patient (1996). Minghella won an Oscar for that movie and is perhaps expected to turn in a new movie equally as long. Ripley runs close to 2-and-a-half hours, longer even than Hitchcock's longest feature, North By Northwest. And North By Northwest slowly built up its suspense, increasing it as it went. The Talented Mr. Ripley runs out of gas and coasts into the finish line, leaving us with an illogical conclusion.

Matt Damon stars as Tom Ripley, a lower-middle class musician who is mistaken for a Princeton grad. He gets hired to go to Italy and bring back a wealthy ship builder's son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Dickie lives there with his girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow). Ripley learns to like his new lifestyle and begins to test himself as to what he'll do to hang on to it. Damon and Paltrow have been good before, but they're coasting here. And Law performs the same spastic bad-boy that he's done in many other movies, like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) and Wilde (1998). Only Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman are good in small, throwaway roles; if only Minghella had been able to see past the business-end of this movie and cast those two potent actors in the leads.

I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley with a friend who had read the book (by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote Strangers on a Train). The movie comes to a nice conclusion about 2 hours in, and then keeps going for another half hour, not only ruining the ending, but bringing to light the homosexual tendencies of the Ripley character, which is only hinted at during the first 2 hours. My friend informed me that the book ended when the movie should have ended, and the gay subtext was kept as a subtext. All Minghella has done here is to add to the long list of gay serial killers in mainstream Hollywood. In 1999, this is a tired and inexcusable device.

On the upside, the editing and sound design were by Walter Murch, who is perhaps the greatest artist in his field in all of the history of movies. Murch's credits include The Godfather trilogy (1972, 74, 90), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), and The English Patient (1996). Murch has a way of cutting a scene so that it's carried off by its sound, and by what you don't see. For a suspense movie like The Talented Mr. Ripley, his technique is most effective. It may be worth seeing the film twice to absorb all of Murch's work.

Regardless, I did enjoy myself a great deal for about an hour. I wrestled with myself whether or not to recommend the movie as a whole based on one hour. I think the evidence is in but I'm on the fence. However, I can say for sure that renting North By Northwest (or the The Talented Mr. Ripley's original incarnation, Rene Clement's Purple Noon) would be much more satisfying.

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