By Kaitlin Lyle
“If I could just go back… if I could rub everything out… starting with myself,” And so, with that soft-spoken opening line, the cinematic journey of Ripley begins into the mesmerizing world of intrigue, murder, and a darkly perfected talent at impersonation.
In this 1999 psychological thriller, director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) brings Patricia Highsmith’s cat-and-mouse novel to great heights as it captivates the viewer from the big screen with each twist and turn. A bespectacled Matt Damon stars as title character Tom Ripley, a struggling young sociopath who goes by the melancholy belief that it is better “to be a fake somebody than a real nobody”.
When Tom is mistaken to be of higher class, he receives the opportunity of a lifetime. The wealthy Herbert Greenleaf bribes him to travel to Italy in order to persuade his wayward son Dickie (Jude Law) to return home. From Tom’s arrival into Italy to his budding friendship with Dickie, he finds himself enraptured into Dickie’s world, a dazzling polar opposite to that of Ripley’s. As their friendship grows, it becomes clear that Dickie possesses everything that Tom desires, the unpredictable freestyle of both music and life. A pleasing contrast to Tom’s classical naïveté. The mischievous saxophonist Dickie has a dizzying hold over money, power, and the respect and adoration of men and women alike; and as Tom becomes more accustomed to the luxuriant existence, he increasingly becomes less willing to let go of it.
Eventually, Dickie tires of their friendship, berating Tom for being a leech, and tragedy strikes as Tom’s hurt gives way to anger. Now, with the prodigal son out of the way, Tom’s talents for telling lies and impersonating “practically anybody” comes into play as he assumes Dickie’s identity, and from that point on, the audience becomes hooked into a deceptive whirlwind.
Throughout the characters’ journey to uncover the mystery, the audience is given a scenic view of Italy’s cultural hearths and celebrations, from Mongibello to Venice. The film’s soundtrack presents itself as a reflection of three different personalities: the exotic vibrancies of the Italian culture, the hauntingly beautiful melodies of Ripley’s piano, and the uplifting jazz that once was Dickie’s identity.
The cast themselves shine in their roles as though they knew their characters all along: Gwyneth Paltrow as Dickie’s fiancé, Marge; the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as callous best friend, Freddie Miles; and Cate Blanchett as zealous debutante Meredith- all of whom unknowingly play a part in the tangled web of lies spun by Tom himself.
While it’s quite clear that Tom is far from being the hero of the film, you’ll find yourself torn between sitting back to watch as he tries to untangle himself from one of his many lies and breathing a sigh of relief when he finally manages to free himself from another moment of suspense. Even while watching him do everything in his power (murder included) to not be found out, you can’t help but admire his knack for saying the right words to get him in the clear, nor can you help but sympathize as his sad mantra renders him incapable of truly connecting with another being.
Overall, if you are looking to put a dark twist into your evening with a well-known cast and a thrill for duplicity, this film comes with high recommendations.