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The Talented Mr. Ripley

Released 1999. Director: Anthony Minghella

BEHOLD THE POWER OF YOUTH. AN AGE WHEN NOTHING SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE. You can be anything you set your heart on - that’s what young people are often told. In the case of Tom Ripley, what, or rather, who he wants to be comes at a price.

Tom has three talents: telling lies, forging signatures and impersonation. All of them come in handy when he’s hired by a trusting shipping tycoon to sail to Europe and bring home his prodigal son. Climbing the stairs from his basement apartment to a waiting limousine is the first sign Tom’s life is about to rise up the social ladder.

The Talented Mr Ripley boasts a cast brimming with promise. In 1999, the star power of this party is just beginning to glow in intensity. Matt Damon already made his name in Good Will Hunting. Jude Law was rising fast, as was Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This movie epitomises the allure of youth and beauty in more ways than one. Watching it again 20 years later, the movie still exudes a sense of optimism, youthful abandon and hedonism.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a social outsider who insinuates his way into the bosom of the affluent. He’s a world apart, a lily-white torso in stark contrast to the toned and tanned body of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) as Tom introduces himself on a sun-soaked Italian beach. But Tom is a fast learner and schools himself in the jazz of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker as a channel into the good grace of Dickie. Soon enough, Tom luxuriates in someone else’s wealth and he doesn’t want it to end.

As Tom is drawn deeper into the lifestyle of the rich and spoiled, Anthony Minghella seduces us into his entrancing period piece. The evocative photography of John Seale, the dreamy score of Gabriel Yared, the chemistry of the handsome cast take us into a world of sunshine, leisure and music, a false sense of endless charm, much like Tom’s façade.

Halfway into the movie, Tom commits a shocking act out of panic. The violence is so sudden and forceful it makes you re-evaluate your idea of this character. Beneath the college-boy innocence a different person is emerging. The seasoned impersonator will soon become a serial murderer, as the evolution of Tom Ripley continues on a path he chooses, making choices to point his life in the most favourable direction at each moment.

In this character study, we sympathise with Tom, despite his actions. When Tom is alone, Matt Damon shows us a troubled and lonely man. Tom’s latent desires, sparked by the occasional electricity of homoeroticism, play a part in the outcome. Yet his life is more complex than a case of cause and effect. In Tom’s compulsion towards Dickie, is Tom trying to be like him, or be him?

This being the 1950s, is Tom trying to invent a new identity for himself or is he trying to deny his own self? In his own words, “It’s better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.” To move ahead in life, to be somebody, in Tom’s mind he has to keep his real self in the closet. There is no place for a man like him in the world he aspires to be a part of.

The gifted, mysterious, haunted Tom Ripley, a creation of Patricia Highsmith from her novel, is an intriguing and enigmatic young man whose need for love and acceptance overpowers his compunctions. A tragic figure shaped out of ambition, greed and fear.


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