The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella, 1999)
[originally posted 22Nov2000]
Anyone who goes into this thinking Anthony Minghella is god and can do no wrong isn’t thinking too far past The English Patient (two words: Mr. Wonderful). Ripley suffers from many of the same shortcomings as Patient did, but it also has many of that film’s strengths, as well, and it’s backed by a classic mystery novel. So it can’t be all bad, right?
Right. Unfortunately, it can’t be as good as it should have been, given the considerable depth of talent herein.
Minghella should be counting one blessing, that his film doesn’t have to stand up to the scrutiny of the earlier film based on this novel, Purple Noon (1960). So few people have seen it that Minghella was capable of starting fresh, with an extremely strong cast, a decent script, and a directorial hand that lends itself to the slow-moving and sumptuous. Large, sweeping landscapes and perfectly-blended colors were one of the things that made The English Patient such a delight to watch, and they do the same here. But the pace of Patient was slower and easier, as a drama should be compared to a mystery, and the Fiennes-Thomas tension was allowed to build and ebb. There’s no real chemistry here between any of the characters, save towards the end, as Tom (Matt Damon) and Peter (Jack Davenport, last seen as the dashing male lead in the extremely underrated Ultraviolet) get to know one another better. We find ourselves wondering where the tension is supposed to be coming from, and ultimately, there isn’t any; it just exists, and continues to exist perhaps long after it should, as Minghella spends forty-five minutes cleaning up loose ends. (To give credit where credit is due, however, the movie’s final scene is masterful.) The characters are well-played, but they seem to be operating in separate vacuums.
Special mention should be given to one thing, however. The PR team did a fantastic job with this. The trailer for the film edited a key scene (“you’re shivering, Marge…”) in such a way as to make it stupidly unwatchable, thus lowering the expectations of the filmgoers. So most people probably went into it thinking “god, I hope the whole film isn’t as bad as that scene.” Well, that scene isn’t as bad as that scene, actually, and that was a pleasant surprise. **