Civilized manners, thin veneers, and the life money can buy-a perfect framework for surprise and horror that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a disturbing, absorbing commentary on the one thing Americans hate to talk about: class. Because money buys social mobility, we like to think we have transcended such things. Mr. Ripley reminds us that we just don't talk about it.

Anthony Minghella, who has written and directed Patricia Highsmith's novel of the '50s, asks the corrosive moral question: What would it take to make a person kill? The answer is the story of Tom Ripley (Matt Damon).

Tom lives in a basement, works as a men's-room attendant, and moonlights as an accompanist to a wedding singer. Tom borrows a Princeton blazer for a performance and is mistaken for a Princeton graduate by a father who begs his help. Mr. Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) will give Tom $1000 plus expenses if he will go to Italy to engineer the return of his son, Dickie (Jude Law), Princeton '56.

Dickie Greenleaf, a spoiled-rotten brat in an era that glorified spoiled expatriates, has become Italian as only Americans with unlimited time and money can. In sun-drenched splendor, Dickie hangs out in the comfortable languor of outdoor cafes and sailboats with his girlfriend, writer Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow). When Tom arrives, he cleverly passes himself off as a former classmate of Dickie's and insinuates himself into the couple's Italian idyll. In one jump, he has become a Princeton man with money.

An uncanny observer and mimic, Tom learns all the tricks he needs for this life that is suddenly his for the taking. His mission for Mr. Greenleaf forgotten, he now wants nothing less than to be Dickie Greenleaf himself. With a cold heart and a fiercely clever mind, the chameleon carves out his new identity.

A uniformly strong cast creates this riveting tale of criminal intrigue among the young idle rich. Jude Law, in his rolled up white pants and casual perfection, conveys the physical and emotional ease that enrages so many who don't have it. He is a graceful, unhurried expatriate who has decided he has no obligations.

Gwyneth Paltrow makes Marge an idle innocent with an appealing purity that crumbles when it is violated. She and Jude Law endow Marge and Dickie with qualities that could easily have made them better people had they made other choices. "The thing with Dickie," Marge says, "the sun shines on you and it's glorious, and then it's very, very cold."

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, sporting the jaded accent of the New York rich, is a terrific Freddie Miles-the trigger for unleashing the cruelty that will undo the small world he has come to visit. Cate Blanchett is predictably fine as a floating aristocrat, and Matt Damon makes Tom Ripley an agonizing portrait of destructive envy. We believe completely that Tom can't bear to lose what Dickie has. Civilized manners, thin veneers, and the life money can buy-a perfect framework for surprise and horror that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Paramount
Rating : R
Running time : 2h19m

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