The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

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Food: Due to the immaculate setting of this movie, the Italian countryside, and also due to my lack of imaginative cooking this week of quarantine, I will share a simple pasta go-to of mine. I typically cook with penne pasta, but you can use any noodle of your preference. I like to bring the water to a boil, and add salt to cook the pasta. When finished, I add Trader Joe’s Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce, top with basil (or arugula if you are short on basil) and Parmesan. It is quick and flavorful.

Film: “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999) starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwenyth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett is not only a treat for the eyes – as beautiful young dreamers gallivant around rural Italy, playing music in gorgeous coastal mansions, ride sailboats in the sun and lounge on the beach – it is a brilliantly warped and gut-wrenching piece of cinema that will bring you down a psychological rabbit hole as you watch the story unravel.

Based off the novel written by Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote The Price of Salt, which became the film “Carol” in 2015), “The Talented Mr. Ripley” was adapted for the screen by Anthony Minghella. He is now also known for “The English Patient” (1996) and “Cold Mountain” (2003), establishing himself as a master of drama in the late 90’s and early 2000’s as all three of these films written and directed by himself went on to get countless nominations during awards season. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay. Though, this was not the first time this book had been adapted for the screen, Minghella’s version was easily the most notable.

Most of the picture takes place on a cliffside resort town of Positano, Italy, as well as some various islands near Naples. They are all under the guise of “Mongibello” – a fictional town created for this story.  However, it starts in New York City where Tom Ripley (a multifaceted performance by Matt Damon) is approached by Herbert Greenleaf, big wig shipping magnate. Ripley is wearing a Princeton jacket he borrowed, and Greenleaf makes the assumption that Ripley went to school with his son, Dickie. He offers Ripley $1,000 to go to Italy and persuade his son to return home. On his way to Italy, he is mistaken for Dickie by loquacious socialite Meredith (Cate Blanchett), and this plants a harrowing seed in crafty Ripley’s head.

The character of Meredith Logue is not present in the novel, but was added by Minghella with Cate Blanchett in mind. He speaks of having been “entranced” with her after meeting with her and surprised that she was actually interested in playing the small part; Minghella went on to write more scenes for the character to expand her role.

When he arrives on the countryside, he stages a run-in with Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law at his best) who is lounging with his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwenyth Paltrow) on the beach. Despite not having ever met before, he passes himself off as Dickie’s old peer – Dickie shamefully giggles to Marge that “he forgot him entirely” – and they form a trio. The three of them enjoy a lavish life of free-spirited nature. Jude Law shines as the animated, temperamental, defiant, bohemian musician, who throws money around like it’s confetti and hops frivolously from idea to idea. Minghella reveals a clear plot-line,  but what he cleverly keeps the characters intentions a mystery. What is Marge thinking? Does she trust Ripley? Does Ripley have more up his sleeve than trying to persuade Dickey to come home? Is Ripley really as uninhibited as he puts on?

Further, it is reckless to talk about “The Talented Mr. Ripley” without mentioning another key performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles, long-time friend of Dickie, who is suspicious of Tom Ripley, treats him with disdain, and impedes on Ripley’s ability to manipulate the situation freely.

This cinematic masterpiece warps and churns and unfolds in such unexpected ways – it is best to go in blind, ready to enjoy the ride. With a skillfully written piece of source material, and a well-played adaptation; a stacked cast and gorgeous setting, it really is tough to go wrong here. But this film really is exceptional, stomach turning, provocative and permeating. I am only sad it took me this long to see it!

 

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