The other night I finally watched the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Based on Patricia Highsmith‘s 1955 novel, the first of 5 featuring Tom Ripley, director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) presents it in a truly chilling manner. Ripley is indeed talented; Matt Damon’s portrayal of him, inspired. When the movie begins, Ripley is the pianist accompanying a singer at a very posh wedding. The setting is late 1950s New York and Ripley is wearing a Princeton blazer. He meets the Greenleafs who suggest he may know their son, Dickie (Jude Law). Here at the beginning, Ripley is hesitant but goes along with the premise and as the celebration winds up we realize that we’ve caught Ripley in his first lie: the Princeton jacket is borrowed. Ripley is interested in being part of the rich and famous crowd and is easily convinced to accept a huge retainer to go to Italy and persuade Dickie to come home to his family and the business of building ships.
We see Ripley ease into more lies and insinuate himself into Dickie’s home and lifestyle but are surprised when he casually confesses his purpose for being there. He does a replay of the conversation he had with Dickie’s father — a perfect imitation. He admits to his talents — not jazz or piano but imitation, forgery, lies. Dickie becomes involved with Ripley and they go to jazz clubs together, sail, and travel. Before long, Dickie tires of Tom’s dependency on him, on his money, on his contacts and they take one last vacation together. Ripley has become obsessed with Dickie and the lifestyle. His first murder is in anger; violent, reluctant, almost self-defence. The viewer is drawn to be sympathetic toward him but still rather horrified, as is Ripley. But in short order, he has recovered, disposed of the evidence, and assumed Dickie’s identity. He has to maintain a dual identity and keep straight who he is with whom. Dickie’s fiance, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), and friends know him as Ripley but now new friends see him as Dickie. He walks a taut line becoming more and more expert at lying, more and more willing to commit murder to cover his tracks.
There are more surprises and twists around every corner as Ripley keeps improvising to maintain the lifestyle to which he has quickly become accustomed. The tension becomes palpable and just when you think he’s finally made it with wealth and a safe position, there’s one more twist. The music (mostly jazz) throughout the movie is great. It’s another way into the lifestyle. The music composed by Gabriel Yared is fabulous. When Ripley sings “My Funny Valentine“, Marge’s favourite song, with the Guy Barker International Quintet, it is extremely poignant. The haunting song at the end, “You Don’t Know What Love Is“, (as the credits roll) leaves the viewer quite unsettled. Sympathetic still? Maybe. Empathetic? Quite possibly. But more sad and disturbed than anything else. An amazing movie. * * * * *