Philip Seymour Hoffman
The last time Anthony Minghella, a former drama teacher, adapted a novel for the big screen and directed it, ‘The English Patient’ netted a whole bucketload of Oscars. Minghella’s run of success looks like continuing – The Talented Mr Ripley has been nominated for five Oscars this year. Considering that the leading lady won last year’s Best Actress Oscar, its leading man has won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and its principal supporting actress has also been Oscar-nominated, the pedigree of success in this film is almost overwhelming.
The Mr Ripley of the title, played by Matt Damon, is at once loathsome and loveable. The hallmark of Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s books was his ability to engender pity and hate in equal measure, being as he is very much an anti-hero, a master of lies and impersonations stuck in a dead-end job. He is approached by the father of a rich international playboy, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), and asked to leave America for Italy to try to persuade his son to return home. Sensing the opportunity to live the high life at someone else’s expense, Ripley accepts the offer and sets about befriending Dickie in Mongibello, southern Italy.
It is the location, as much as the costumes and set, which make this film so vivid. Sunsets, cobbled streets and rippling waves all depict a life worlds away from the one Ripley has just left and it is not difficult to see why he wouldn’t have it any other way. Ripley, Dickie and his on-off girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) all enjoy the pursuits of leisure; Dickie is an occasional painter and sax player, Marge is an aspiring writer. Before very long, Ripley is invited to stay with Dickie and Marge. Patricia Highsmith’s book repeatedly hints at Ripley’s possible homosexuality, but in the film Minghella makes no bones about it. A scene involving Ripley asking Dickie if he could share a bath with him caused a cinema walk-out. It becomes clear in any event that the admiration, if not love that Ripley feels for Dickie is going to be unrequited. It is at this point that the full extent of Ripley’s persona comes to the fore, as a terrible series of events is set in motion that changes all their lives forever.
Scenery, costumes and set aside, other notable high points in this film include Jude Law, who will hopefully now get the success in Hollywood that he has so long deserved, being nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in this film. Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon are adequate, although Damon is not especially good at portraying Ripley’s supposed mimickry skills. Cate Blanchett and This Life star Jack Davenport both offer excellent support in unexpected characterisations.
Minghella may not have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar this year, but he has again produced a very fine film in which all the elements of filmmaking shine. We can but hope that he returns to the Ripley saga and adapts another of the books for the big screen soon.