Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) adapts the Patricia Highsmith novel for the big screen, casts it perfectly, and delivers a superb character study and psychological thriller. Matt Damon anchors the film in the best performance of his career, playing the insecure but devious Tom Ripley, a lower-class New Yorker who serendipitously finds himself in Italy to locate a tycoon’s son and encourage him to return to the U.S. When Ripley finds the playboy (Jude Law), he ingratiates himself into his and his fiancee’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) life. When the lovers’ friend Freddy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) joins the party, Ripley’s true intentions become known and a body count begins.
Damon is heartbreaking as Ripley. It’s very rare to find a film where the main character is a killer, but you still root for him to find love and to get away with his crimes. It’s a tribute to the complexity of the character, the performance, and the direction. The supporting cast are all at the top of their game, including Cate Blanchett as an American foil to all of Ripley’s scheming. Paltrow is especially good in the film’s third act, balancing determination with paranoia as she falls victim to Ripley’s machinations. (Blanchett, Paltrow, and Hoffman would all soon win Oscars; Damon had just won one for cowriting Good Will Hunting).
Minghella’s adaptation is a brisk, engaging one full of surprises, twists, and revelations, with Hitchcockian overtones abound. The film takes place all over Italy, including Naples, Rome, and Venice — so in addition to the narrative and emotional engagement, you also get a healthy dose of beautiful escapism from this film. Gabriel Yared’s score is sparsely utilized but gorgeous, and the film’s ending is just about as perfect as one could possibly be.
I’ve seen The Talented Mr. Ripley three times now — when it was first released, many years later, and just recently, and it’s one of those rare films I love even more every time I see it.
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Jude Law), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score (Gabriel Yared), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design