The Talented Mr Ripley

5/04/2001 01:00.
Cert 15

Programme Notes

Tom Ripley, piano-tuner and lavatory attendant, is mistaken for an Ivy League alumnus by a wealthy American magnate who sends him off on an all-expenses paid trip to Italy (poor lad) to rescue his son Dickie from a dissolute life of pleasure on the Mediterranean (your heart bleeds for him, as well!). Tom has a talent for scraping acquaintance and soon befriends Dickie, falling into an easy intimacy that becomes precious to Tom. But Dickie’s friendship doesn’t last; he begins to cut Tom out and, angry and hurt, Tom kills him, and takes on his identity. And why not? If he can’t have Dickie, he can be Dickie – rich, handsome, carefree – who wouldn’t? He soon finds it’s not as easy as all that: Dickie’s friends and the police become suspicious, and it takes all Tom’s undoubted talent for impersonation, forgery, lying and even murder to juggle his two identities and stay ahead of the game. Patricia Highsmith’s chilling psychological thrillers have proved tempting to film-makers, who have also found that it’s not as easy as all that. For one thing, she refuses to judge Ripley’s actions, which makes it harder for a writer or director to find a point of view. Public opinion has changed since René Clément made his version of the story, Plein Soleil, in 1960, and writer and director Anthony Minghella is free to bring out the homoerotic undercurrent in Tom and Dickie’s relationship and to let Tom get away with his crimes, at least on the surface. Intelligent, urbane and totally unscrupulous, Tom is that rare and precious thing, a really good villain, and we like villains because they do what we can’t – which includes getting away with murder! Minghella has adapted the book somewhat freely, and may have taken Tom’s bisexuality a bit too far, suggesting that it’s part of a floating, insecure identity that’s as much a puzzle to Tom as anyone. He’s also widened the social gap between Tom and Dickie, and made Dickie a more intelligent and sophisticated, albeit no more likeable, character, living a truly enviable life. All this makes Tom more sympathetic; his desire to be ‘a fake somebody rather than a real nobody’ becomes poignant rather than calculating. There’s a risk of us feeling sorry for him rather than guiltily admiring his pure badness. Still, it’s a beautifully crafted, intelligent film, and probably the most successful attempt to bring Highsmith’s work to the screen since Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

Tom Ripley: Matt Damon
Dickie: Jude Law
Marge: Gwyneth Paltrow
Meredith: Cate Blanchett
Freddie: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director and screenplay: Anthony Minghella
Producers: William Horberg, Tom Sternberg
Photography: John Seale


“Gripping – held me right through. Brilliant location photography and music. Hitchock could have been proud (of this)! No come-uppance for Tom?”

“Tangled webs within tangled webs!”

“Very watchable – BUT – this Ripley isn’t a real P. Highsmith Ripley; he seemed too naive. In the books, he is usually (more) suave and sophisticated PS: Thanks to you all for a GREAT season !!”

“A very good representation of paranoia but Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley was a different sort – cold and unselfpitying”

“Not as good as Plein Soleil

“(An) unfair ending – (there was a) better finale in the French version”

“A very different ending from last year’s version!”

“Ridiculous and pointless but it had a certain power. (A) good performance from Matt Dillon”

“The plot didn’t hold together and the main characters weren’t believable …. and don’t get me started on the lack of period (feel) …. !! “