The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): The Sociopaths Dance

The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley

“Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person. ”

-Tom Ripley

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a film that makes me want to read the book. It is hard to pin down what the director was going for with the film since so many of the character’s are unsympathetic…the film it reminds me of most is “American Psycho,” which is a film I really like but has a much clearer message. It is a critique of corporate America through the eyes of the main character and the superficial disconnect from that lifestyle in brief. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” on the other hand is much more vague on it’s point. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a character study of Ripley or a critique of the people around him. Well, it is time for the assessment.

Warning, this review does have Spoilers.

The Pros – The cast is fantastic. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Davenport (Admiral Norrington from the “Pirates of the Caribbean Series”). All of them do well with what they are given in how the relate to one another and their relationships.

The Sociopaths – The main draw of the film is the relationship between Ripley (Damon) and Dickie Greenleaf (Law) in the first half and later Peter (Davenport) in the second half. These are the main people who use one another and are used (mostly by Ripley who is the master of it). It is worth watching just for them since that was where the script was most invested. None of them except Peter (Who is also gay and thankfully it isn’t presented as bad – He is there for those he loves (Ripley and Marge but uses everyone else) are good people. Dickie Greenleaf and Ripley are some of the more despicable characters in film and are ready to murder at the drop of a hat if they feel threatened as well as using, abusing and leaving their partners versus Peter who is more like Dexter, using his disconnect to protect Ripley his love. Also, an honorary mention to Philip Seymour Hoffman who was also clearly one of the sociopaths in the group (especially in relation to women and anyone outside of Dickie). He did great and his character actually had a fair amount of agency.

The Music – It is haunting and is good at adding tension. It adds to the scenes rather than just being background ambiance. The music was the glimpse into Ripley’s head when he didn’t have moments of honesty during his monologues.

Okay – The cinematography. It isn’t anything special. We don’t get any glimpses into the mind of Ripley from the cinematography…at least none that I found truly groundbreaking or worth noticing.

The Script – It wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t anything special. Much of the dialogue, especially for the women could be said by either of the female leads and it would change absolutely nothing.

Cons – The female characters – They were props and they had no agency throughout the entire film. The actresses are fantastic and their charisma at least made their scenes interesting…they just weren’t given anything to do and were cast aside or taken on as Ripley or the guys in control needed. I wish Paltrow’s character Marge had gotten revenge against Ripley even if she would join the Sociopaths (since we saw echoes of her being that way, the director or script writer just couldn’t commit).

The Message – I didn’t know what it was. If it was a character study of Mr. Ripley than we don’t know what he wants except the quote at the beginning of this review about him being a somebody rather than a nobody…but so often he gives that up to adopt a new identity and use another person. The ending is desolate and empty which would have been more powerful if we saw more of that empty Ripley between the roles and the characters he chose to be. Because we didn’t..the message fell flat.

I would give this movie a recommend nonetheless. It was good, especially for seeing the different types of sociopathy and the darker side of humanity, and the music creates great tension. Matt Damon, Jude Law and Jack Davenport have a chance to shine as the sociopathic dancers dancing with one another. Their characters show the different reasons that people commit wrongs against other human beings and those two characters and the relationships around Ripley are the only things that make him interesting.

I would rate it as 7.5 / 10.


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