Talented Mr. Damon
Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley provides showcase for actor Matt Damon.
Thursday, January 13, 2000
You still have time to see The Talented Mr. Ripley, one of the best releases of the holiday season. Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) is the second director to adapt Patricia Highsmith''s novel of the same name, but his film bears only slight resemblance to Rene Clement''s equally terrific Purple Noon (1960). Blessedly, Minghella has matched Clement''s gutsy refusal to compromise the icy precision of Highsmith''s deeply pessimistic inquiries into human behavior and motivation. In the pantheon of all-time great literary sociopaths, Highsmith''s Tom Ripley is a Mozart, a Da Vinci, a bloody Michael Jordan. His dastardly deeds--including serial murder, forgery, fraud, and grand theft to name just a few--are so stunningly audacious and imaginative you regularly find yourself rooting for the heartless little monster to succeed.
Matt Damon, in yet another role that uses his bland, prep-school quarterback''s face as counterpoint for gradually unfolding complexities, is an inspired choice for the lead role. We first meet Ripley as a penniless piano player and washroom attendant in New York. A few quick-moving scenes later, he''s conned rich shipbuilder Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) into sending him to Italy on the ostensible mission of persuading his playboy son, Dickie, to return home. We quickly recognize Ripley as a ghastly parody of the classic Horatio Alger hero. He seems to have discovered at a tender age that treachery, lying, and judicious use of blunt objects are more effective than hard work and gumption alone.
Ripley is practically salivating when he meets Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) in their expats idyll of sun, sailing, and exotic nightlife.
More than any of the material particulars of Dickie''s life, though, Tom desires Dickie himself. This is certainly understandable. Law is tough to beat in terms of Apollonian contours, languid eyes, and general air of elegant dissipation.
Paltrow and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as one of Dickie''s loutish drinking pals) are effective in roles that basically consist of challenging Ripley''s feral wit and pushing him to greater feats of villainy. Above all, however, it''s Matt Damon''s show. And in a performance that should put him solidly in the running for this year''s Best Actor Oscar, he not only penetrates to the core of Highsmith''s vision but adds inspired new strokes to her monstrously beguiling creation.