Directed By Anthony Minghella
By: Eric G.
With an Hitchcockian title sequence that immediately triggers feelings of trepidation and dread, Anthony Minghella is off to a good start with his follow up to The English Patient. The cinematography is predictably stunning with a lush 1950’s Italian setting as its backdrop. Sure, Matt Damon is hard to swallow as a misfit loser with no friends, taste, or personality, but in a film this stylized and streamlined it’s not surprising to have beautiful people play even the ugly characters. Jude Law is perfect as an ungrateful trust fund brat with his intimidating and striking good looks, and Gwyneth Paltrow is just the girl to play his uncomplicated, well-bred girlfriend.
The first quarter of the film is relatively upbeat with Damon’s Tom Ripley jetting off to Italy under the guise of being a Princeton graduate on a mission to bring a fellow classmate home to his shipbuilding family- for a price, of course. We see Ripley’s lies unfold before us, but nothing seems beyond repair: so the Princeton jacket wasn’t really his and his name isn’t Greenleaf. So what? He’s just having a bit of fun travelling, taking on a new persona and escaping his drab life in New York. The darker aspects of Ripley’s personality unravel slowly and Minghella’s pacing is slow and deliberate. Ripley plays the underdog card at first when his welcome is still warm, but his quirks seep through the cracks of his naive ‘aw shucks’ facade and Minghella relishes in the discomfort it brings to the screen.
Paltrow’s role is relatively small, but she plays the snobbish, cultivated blonde so well it’s a shame her talent is so underused. Damon hides behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, but even that hardly diminishes his WASP-ish good looks and all-American smile. Jude Law’s presence, however, outweighs everyone’s except, perhaps, that of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who steals every scene in which he’s featured. Hoffman lays it on thick and comes off like fingernails on a chalkboard. He is neither handsome nor charming, but he is intimidating and caustic the way he spews bile at Ripley: “You live in Dickie’s house. You wear Dickie’s clothes. You eat Dickie’s food, and Dickie’s Father picks up the tab.” From this moment on the film is tense because those comments, no matter how off-handed and sarcastic they were intended, planted seeds of doubt in everyone’s mind about poor innocent Tom Ripley.
Once Ripley’s shell is cracked the film literally takes a dark turn. All of the beaches and relaxing sunny afternoon teas are replaced with dreary gray skies, darkness, and cold. The suspenseful aspect of the film is minute since we know everything Ripley has done, but Minghella somehow maintains a level of tension, banking on the audience’s dread of what horrors Ripley might commit next. Cate Blanchett plays the foil to Ripley’s dirty deeds and is also sadly underused with her small role. She shows up at all the wrong moments, unknowingly causing Ripley’s list of murders to grow. Minghella cleverly presents us with the dilemma of having to choose whether or not to sympathize with a sociopath. There is a lofty detachment about the film, though, which prevents anyone from truly latching on to the story. The film’s ending is unexpected but also somewhat anticlimactic, leaving so many questions unanswered.