Today’s Staff Picks blog comes to us from Bears Fonté, AFF’s Film Department Director of Programming. Bears’ post brings us to the darker side of love, the obsessive, determined, lustful side of love portrayed by Matt Damon as Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.
Anthony Minghella’s got a thing about love so strong it pushes a person to unthinkable extremes. His 2003 civil war epic COLD MOUNTAIN found Jude Law as a confederate deserter walking for months through near starvation to return to his wife. His first film, TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY centers on a man who comes back as a ghost and tarnishes his girlfriend’s memory of him, just so she’ll move on. His most famous film, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, involves loves and lies and people staying behind during war to care for burn victims. [Admission: I’ve never made it through this movie. My feelings about it were best summarized by Dawson’s Creek’s Pacey who used it time and time again to put babies to sleep.] For me, the ultimate Minghella statement on love is THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.
This film, based on a brilliant Patricia Highsmith novel, follows Tom Ripley as he makes his way to San Reimo, Italy, under the pretence of bringing back playboy Dickie Greenleaf to his conservative shipbuilding father. Matt Damon (in what I consider his finest performance) fills Tom with the perfect amount of jealousy, confidence, lust and cold determination needed to infiltrate this elite set of Princeton grads eternally holidaying on family money. He stays up nights quizzing himself on jazz artists after he hears about Dickie’s love of the ‘new hip sound of the late fifties.’ He models himself after Dickie in his dress and hair, copying his every move.He falls in love with Dickie’s lifestyle and he falls in love with Dickie.There is a moment where he and his idol (played by Jude Law) nearly share a bath, rife with sexual tension, when Tom almost gets what he wants. But like all love-gone-wrong stories, Tom’s obsession (or as Dickie calls it, his constant presence) drives him to commit the most shocking and blood-thirsty acts – first by killing Dickie himself (and that’s not even the movie’s mid point). Moving to Rome, he poses as Dickie to collect the latest check from daddy Greenleaf, creates a relationship between Tom and Dickie by leaving messages at hotels for each other, and then sends himself back to San Reimo to dump Dickie’s girlfriend (played effortlessly Gwyneth Paltrow). What’s most horrific about Tom’s fall is that later in the movie, when he finally stumbles into a relationship that might actually provide the love he so clearly needs, he must sacrifice it to continue to cover up his murder and usurpment of Dickie Greenleaf.
For me, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY perfectly captures that moment when you first learn that your feelings are not reciprocated.It depicts the quiet desperation of being an outsider and grasping for any way in. Beautifully shot on location by John Seale (RAIN MAN, WITNESS), it somehow exists far from the year it was made and really puts you back at a time before there were such things as anti-heroes and every love story had a happy ending. If there is one thing that survives this descent into the darker side of desire, it’s the pure unadulterated devotion to Jazz. The soundtrack and score are both phenomenal and provide the perfect close to this review: there is nothing so chilling as Matt Damon’s under-stated and splendid rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” Cozy up to someone close while you watch this one, and be glad it’s just a movie.
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