The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella, director, 1999
HOOK: What if Strangers on the Train derailed?
LINE: “Wherever I look for Dickie I find you”
SINKER: “She (Highsmith) was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person,” said acquaintance Otto Penzler. “I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly.”
JOHN: This is one of those films that half way though you realize is a masterpiece, and then when it ends you are not so sure. The good stuff includes a gorgeous, glowing quality to the Italian settings, an imaginative musical score, plus Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, James Rebhorn and a sly Philip Seymour Hoffman in career defining roles.
But those of us familiar with Patricia Highsmith’s books might balk that this adaptation is too close to the source. One of her appeals to an audience is how she entraps us through a few seemingly unimportant choices to defending what we have become by going even further outside the rules of society. Like Dostoyevsky and Franz Kafka she gets us contemplating a morality we don’t often think about, not as an intellectual exercise but as someone caught outside its clutches trying to figure out what to do next.
GO GO GO (3 GOs out of four)
SPANKY: Let me say what I think you are heading for. It’s almost like the director said to Matt Damon, “OK what is your character’s real motivation here?” And he reaches for the homosexual card instead of the feelings any of us might have about wanting to change places with someone (like the too handsome Law) who is more sophisticated, wealthy and even has the eye of a Gwyneth Paltrow. Though Highsmith was herself a lesbian, it seems kind of a cop out for Ripley and the audience. Don’t we watch films to pretend we are someone else, often beyond the limitations of our own lives? The storyline goes to the heart of this process and to sidestep it for a simpler scapegoat we can shake a finger at is missing an opportunity to do much more. Damon is perfect as Ripley without a deeper hidden secret, just as the smirking, conceited Hoffman is the annoying obstacle we all know and Rebhorn is the over controlling parent. Sometimes less is better, Tom Ripley.
BARK, BARK, (2 BARKs out of four)
DID YOU KNOW: Highsmith graduated from Barnard College, where she had studied English composition, playwriting and the short story. Living in New York City and Mexico between 1942 and 1948, she wrote for comic book publishers. Answering an ad for “reporter/rewrite,” she arrived at the office of comic book publisher Ned Pines and landed a job working in a bullpen with four artists and three other writers, initially scripting two comic book stories a day for $55-a-week.
The young Highsmith had an intense, complicated relationship with her mother. According to Highsmith, her mother once told her that she had tried to abort her by drinking turpentine. Highsmith never resolved this love-hate relationship, which haunted her for the rest of her life, and which she fictionalized in her short story “The Terrapin,” about a young boy who stabs his mother to death.