The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

The Talented Mr Ripley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In late 1950s New York, a young underachiever named Tom Ripley sees a once in a lifetime opportunity for enrichment when he is sent to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy. On at Chiswick Cinema Tuesday 23 April.

I’ll come out clean, right from the start: I love this film and always have, and the idea to be able to host a film club around it (this Tuesday, 23 April at 8.25pm at The Chiswick Cinema), show it to a crowd, talk about it, and share the dozens of stories behind the scenes, and its cinematic techniques, fills me with joy.

With the release of Ripley, the ultra-stylish TV series on Netflix, based on the same novel, and the 25th anniversary of the film itself, there seems to be no better time to revisit this gem.

Everything about this film screams ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ for me, and I mean that in the best possible way. From the way director Anthony Minghella manages to build tension, often even without the aid of additional music, to the attention to  detail for costumes and makeup (look at the way Gwyneth Paltrow reminds us of Grace Kelly, for example) and of course to the use of the locations, using the lush colours of sunlit Italy (which rarely looked more inviting), in stark contrast with the dark deeds taking place in the story.

And as Minghella takes us through this gorgeous-looking film, we slowly found ourselves sympathising with a criminal and hoping he doesn’t get caught,  just like we did in famous classics by Hitchcock, Psycho, Rope, Shadow of a Doubt and to a degree even Strangers on a Train, a film which incidentally was adapted from a novel by the same author as The Talented Mr Ripley, the American writer Patricia Highsmith.

Highsmith clearly loves writing about Ripley (she went on to write four more novels about the character), and her affection for the him is apparent from page one.

Minghella too understands that for a film to work, he’s got to humanise his main character of Tom Ripley, make us like him, despite his deceptions, questionable choices, and horrible actions, so as a screenwriter and director, he decided to add interesting layers of emotions to his persona  (the whole homosexual subtext in the film, for example, which is only briefly touched in the book).

His camera focuses on mirrors and distorted images all the time, constantly reflecting the inner conflicts, duplicity of his character. Minghella also loves toying with his audience, with clues and details, adding tension at every corner.

Minghella is great not just at filming Italy with its picture perfect postcard-like beauties, but the relationship between two main characters as well (see how his camera frames them mostly in two-shots when their friendship is blossoming, and in singles, once it begins to break down).

His cast plays it all to perfection. Matt Damon has never been better than this (perfect casting choice. Can you imagine if Minghella had gone for his original choice, Tom Cruise?). Jude Law has rarely been so attractive, Minghella’s camera flirts with him, seducing both Tom Ripley’s character and his audience into submission. Law was also nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA for this role.

The rest of the cast is just as strong and impressive, from the sleazy Philip Seymour Hoffman (How I miss that actor!), to the ever-so-splendid Cate Blanchett and of course the above-mentioned Gwyneth Paltrow, fresh from her Oscar win the year before for Shakespeare in Love, here confirming not just her beauty but her acting chops too (sadly, this might be her last strong performance).

All of this is topped by the wonderful soundtrack (which often plays on a loop in my house), which plays a huge part in the film adding a whole series of layers of readings.

Gabriel Yared’s original score is used sparingly but perfectly captures the beauty and romanticism of Italy, while at the same time blends haunting melodies and suspenseful motifs throughout the film, adding tension, mystery, intrigue, suspense, but also melancholy and longing.

And that’s not all. There’s also a series of jazz and classical cues. They infuse the film with a mixture of feelings which mirror those of the different characters as well as the complexity of the plot itself. So, on one hand we’ve got the impulsiveness and spontaneity of jazz, ready to improvise, change, and morph according to the circumstances. On the other hand, the much more rigid, rule-bound, classical music, representing that sophistication and refined  taste of the high society settings depicted in the film.

In one scene there is even a piece of opera by Monteverdi, beautifully used to highlight Ripley’s internal turmoil, his conflicting emotions, his sense of loss, longing, all of which enhances the poignancy that surrounds his character.

And whilst all this on paper might make it all sound quite brainy and full of itself, The Talented Mr. Ripley is anything but. Underneath all these layers (some more subtle than others), there is a cracking thriller, which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, guessing at every corner and eventually makes them all want to go book our ticket for the next holiday as soon as possible.

There is a screening of The Talented Mr Ripley at Chiswick Cinema Tuesday 23 April for Andrea’s Film Club.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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