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The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) Review

‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ is a psychological thriller and crime drama adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel of the same name. The film has a star-studded cast including Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett among others.

The story follows a young, penniless American-Tom Ripley-who is mistaken by wealthy shipbuilder Henry Greenleaf as an Ivy League classmate of his son Dickie. Rather than correct him, Tom plays the part. Henry later recruits Tom to go to Italy and convince his son to return to America. He promises to pay for the trip and offer a thousand dollars to get Dickie back from his permanent European vacation. On meeting Dickie and his girlfriend Marge, he soon becomes enamoured by their decadent lifestyle and later plunges into a web of lies, deceit and crime of his own making.

|WARNING: Spoilers ahead|

Once he meets Dickie, he confesses that his visit was sponsored by his father. He also confesses how his skills involved everything from forgery to impersonation. Dickie is intrigued by Tom and decides to let him into his circle and stay indefinitely as a guest. They decide to conspire to keep living off of Henry and the three get closer amidst the backdrop of sailing by gorgeous beaches in Italy by day and extravagant jazz parties by night.

Dickie is both likeable and detestable. He is a personification of wealth and privilege, spending away his father’s money to fund a glamorous but most definitely hollow lifestyle. He has a charismatic, magnetic aura about him but he is also morally flawed, selfish and needlessly cruel. But Tom aspires to be with, and be Dickie and is as infatuated with Dickie’s way of life as he is with the man himself. He manipulates situations to be his confidante-learning everything about his life. Here, his real intentions start to show themselves.

Their relationship soon turns rocky. During a confrontation, Tom murders Dickie in a fit of rage, envy and insecurity. He then assumes his identity and deceits his way into living a double life. "The Greenleaf name opens a lot of doors", and Ripley is soon obsessed with his new life as a member of the privileged class. and This results in a spree of killings of all those who suspect him.

Tom Ripley doesn’t look nearly scary enough to be a murderer. So, when his character changes from a nice, clean-cut young man to a cunning, deceptive sociopathic killer, it is quite unsettling to watch. His motivations make him more pitiable than despicable. When Dickie says, “You can be a leech – you know that – and it’s boring. You can be quite boring.” one can certainly feel sorry for Ripley’s situation. But his later actions only prove that he deserves no sympathy and has turned into a monster with no regard for anyone except himself.

The film’s strongest point are its characters- each of the main characters have their own twisted and reprehensible characteristics. This makes it impossible to be fully sympathetic towards any of them while acknowledging how very human they all are. It acts as a perfect representation of how everything perfect on the surface hides something darker beneath the surface. The wonderful cinematography and lavish locations in Italy add on to make the movie quite enjoyable to watch.

Where this movie lacks is during its second half, after its main conflict. It is impossible to believe some of the stunts Ripley pulls as a double-agent as well as how the policemen are so slow to catch on. Even though the title suggests the many ‘talents’ of Mr. Ripley, his lies aren’t all that genius and makes one wonder how he got away with all of his crimes. The ending is especially baffling as Ripley chooses to kill Peter and continue living a double life with Meredith, even though he could have chosen to get away from it all and live freely with Peter as Tom Ripley.

In the end, this movie is about coveting what you can’t have. Ripley’s greed and obsession led him down an unforgivable and irredeemable path. His defining character trait is most aptly expressed when he says, “I always thought it was better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.” For those who are looking for interesting characters and won’t be disappointed with a triumph of the ‘bad' side, do give ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ a chance.

-By Annapoorna Narayan

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