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Film / The Talented Mr. Ripley

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"If I could just go back. If I could rub everything out, starting with myself. Starting with borrowing a jacket..."
Herbert "Dickie" Greenleaf: Everybody should have one talent. What's yours?
Tom Ripley: Forging signatures, telling lies, impersonating practically anybody.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a 1999 film directed by Anthony Minghella. It is an adaptation of the book of the same name, which is the first novel in Patricia Highsmith's Ripliad series. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a young schemer in 1950s New York with talents for things like impersonating people and forging signatures. A rich businessman named Herbert Greenleaf hires Tom to go off to Europe to fetch home Herbert's wastrel son Dickie (Jude Law).

Tom tracks Dickie down in Italy where he's living the life of the idle rich with his pretty girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Tom quickly forgets the whole idea of bringing Dickie back to America and instead starts hanging out with him, in a relationship that's less friendship and more like hero worship with a strong tinge of homoeroticism. However, Dickie's fellow blue blood rich guy friend Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) recognizes Tom for the lower-class hanger-on that he is, and holds him in contempt. Dickie begins to tire of Tom and his doglike devotion. A confrontation leads to a shocking act of violence, and then the story takes a turn.

Cate Blanchett appears as Meredith, a society lady that Tom strikes up a casual friendship with before he goes to Europe. Compare this film to Purple Noon, a 1960 French adaptation of the same book, with Alain Delon as Tom Ripley.

A co-production of Paramount and Miramax, it is now distributed worldwide by the former after it purchased a minority stake in the latter in 2020.

The Talented Mr. Ripley contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Tom Ripley commits two of the same murders as he does in the book, but he is presented as much more emotional and caring, with his sociopathy significantly toned down. As a particular example, Ripley in the books is introduced pretending to be an official with the electric company/other creditor organizations, and calls random people up to pressure them about (nonexistent) bills, partly so he can support himself on their money and partly for his own amusement. In contrast, Ripley in the film works as a waiter and engages in relatively innocent deceptions in which he lies about his background. He also benefits from the fact that Dickie, his first victim, gets a considerable dose of Adaptational Villainy, going from an Upper-Class Twit in the book to a caddish borderline sociopath in the film. Also, in this movie his murder of Dickie comes in a fit of rage, while in the book he plans it out in advance. On the other hand, Tom also murders Peter Smith-Kingsley, who survived the novel.
    • Also Marge. In the book she's presented as a bit dim, seemingly incapable of understanding that Dickie just isn't in love with her and totally oblivious to Tom's machinations. She's also judgemental, snobbish and homophobic about Tom from the get-go. In the film, her confusion over Dickie's feelings is legitimate (he's stringing her along), her snobbery is downplayed, and she's the only person to figure out that Tom is responsible for Dickie's death. Shame no-one believes her.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The scene where Marge confronts Tom about him having Dickie's rings plays out differently than in the novel, and leaves a dangling thread that the book ties up. In the novel, Marge is saved from being murdered by Tom when she concludes that Dickie must have actually committed suicide if he gave away his rings, and her suspicions of Tom are assuaged. In the film, she has no such revelation, tells Tom to his face that she knows he's lying, and is only saved by the timely arrival of Peter Smith-Kingsley. She goes on believing (correctly, one might add) that Tom killed Dickie for the rest of the movie, whereas the book's Ripley truly gets away scot-free with no one the wiser.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Dickie proves to be a complete cad. In the book, he merely comes across as a bit shallow and selfish, but not really a bad guy.
  • The Adjectival Superhero: The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ironic in that Tom's talents are in fields such as forgery, identity theft, and murder.
  • Alter-Ego Acting: Tom is able to both convincingly take Dickie Greenleaf's identity, and portray an exaggerated version of him before the same police officers who saw him as Dickie and get away with it.
  • Ascended Extra: Peter Smith-Kingsley has only a very minor presence in the book, although Tom does consider that they might have become closer had circumstances been different. Freddie Miles' role is also considerably expanded.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Dickie cheats on Marge, then refuses to help Silvana when she gets pregnant. When she kills herself, he's crushed and horrified, but his chief concern is still how this will affect him. And the things he says to Tom just before the latter kills him are accurate, but hypocritical and delivered quite cruelly, and Tom's murder of him is a direct result of Dickie going berserk and relentlessly assaulting him. Later, the private detective sent to investigate Dickie's disappearance reveals even more sordid details from his past, notably that he almost killed a classmate during a party over a girl.
    • Freddie. He's correctly suspicious of Tom from the moment they meet, but he acts like such a jerk, it's hard to feel sorry for him when Tom bashes his head in. Very tellingly, this is the one murder he displays no remorse for.
  • Bathtub Bonding: Narrowly averted when Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf play chess together while Dickie is in the bath. Dickie expresses his dissatisfaction with being an only child, while Tom's lingering stares again alert the viewer to Tom's growing fascination with Dickie.
    Tom: I'm cold, can I get in?
    Dickie: ...No.
    Tom (embarrassed): I didn't mean with you in it.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Downplayed. Tom's chances of getting away with Peter's murder are slim at best. Both Peter and Tom would have needed their ID to buy tickets and board the ship from Italy to Greece, so there is definitive evidence that they are travelling together. Peter will be the third person who has gone missing in close proximity to Tom, and even if Tom can safely dispose of the body and fake Peter's identity well enough to get through passport control in Athens, this might prove one murder too many. If the police investigate Tom for Peter's disappearance (and why on earth wouldn't they, given the circumstances?) they will soon discover that Meredith knows him as 'Dickie Greenleaf'. At that point, his goose is cooked.
  • Broken Ace: The cruel irony of the film is that Tom really is a very talented guy. He's intelligent, charismatic and driven, and (as Phillip proves) perfectly capable of finding someone who loves him for himself. Unfortunately his low self-esteem, stemming from class insecurity and internalised homophobia, prevent him from realising this until it's too late.
    • Also Dickie. He's incredibly good-looking, charming, well-educated, stylish, musically talented and independently wealthy. Shame about the sexual infidelity, callousness, entitlement and outbursts of violent rage.
  • Broken Pedestal: Tom idolises Dickie... before learning who he actually is under the charming mask.
  • Canon Foreigner: Meredith doesn't exist in the book and was created for the film.
  • Cassandra Truth: Marge flat-out says to Tom, "I know you killed Dickie". Unfortunately, as she's rather screaming it and flailing her arms at him, she's dismissed as a hysterical woman.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tom unwraps a large bust that he bought. He soon uses it to bash Freddie's head in.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Averted. Tom demonstrates that he can mimic other people's voices and likes to practice when alone. However, when Marge comes to confront him, thinking he's Dickie, and they are separated by only a door, the titular Mr. Ripley stays quiet rather than attempting an impersonation when he easily could have.
  • City of Canals: Venice is one of the main settings.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Tom encounters Meredith two more times after their initial meeting, first running into her in Rome and then happening to take the same boat as her to Greece, and both times she unwittingly threatens his ruse. The second time is fatal for Peter, as he and Meredith know Ripley as Tom and Dickie respectively, they also happen to know each other, and Meredith is travelling with her family so Ripley (even though he infinitely prefers Peter) can't kill her to cover his tracks.
  • Cradling Your Kill: After bashing Dickie's head in, Tom cuddles up next to him in the classic "afterglow" position.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Tom in regards to Dickie. His reaction when Freddie arrives and monopolizes Dickie's time, as well as his reaction to Dickie and Marge's lovemaking is like that of a spurned lover.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Inverted. After injuring himself when he falls off his bike, Tom tells Marge that Dickie hit him in order to lend credence to his cause.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Tom does this both to give himself an alibi and to live off of Dickie's money.
  • Dead Star Walking: Jude Law is billed third on the poster, but gets killed off roughly an hour into the film.
  • Death by Adaptation: Peter Smith-Kingsley gets murdered in the end.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Tom, in spades. In the scene where he spies on Dickie and Marge as they make love, it's hard to tell which one of them he's jealous of.
  • Downer Ending: Tom gets away with the crimes he's committed throughout the film, but it ends with him killing his lover Peter — probably the first and only person to return his affections as well as love and accept him as he is — because it's the only way he can avoid being found out for impersonating Dickie.
  • Driven to Suicide: Dickie's lover, whom he abandons after she gets pregnant. Faced with the possibility of being an unwed mother in 1950s Italy, she kills herself to avoid the inevitable shame. Towards the end of the film, Tom forges a note to make it seem as though Dickie himself has done this.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Meredith isn't dumb, but she's clearly clueless about the extent that she's being used and deceived by Tom, and even Dickie.
  • Exact Words:
    Inspector: Did you kill Freddie Miles and then kill Dickie Greenleaf?
    Tom: No, I did not kill Freddie Miles and then kill Dickie Greenleaf!note 
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the movie's title "The [adjective] Mr Ripley", about a dozen words (sensitive, mysterious, tender, etc) take turns filling the adjective slot, before "Talented" is fixed.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages:
    Roverini: E possibile che lei ha tendenze omosessuali?
    Peter (translating): He wants to know if you're a homosexual.
    Tom: No!
    Peter (translating): No.
  • Evil Genius: Tom is surprisingly skilled in manipulating everyone around him and manages to get away with his murders in a strategic way.
  • Handwriting as Characterization: Discussed. Tom Ripley analyzes Dickie Greenleaf's handwriting, noting that his letters not touching the line they are written on are a sign of vanity. This is more than a casual observation on Tom's part, as he is skilled in forging people's handwriting and signatures, something he uses when assuming Dickie's identity after murdering him.
  • Hypocrite: Tom declares to Dickie that "at least I'm not pretending to be someone that I'm not" when that's exactly what he's been doing, and also states that "I've been completely honest with you", when he's been lying through his teeth from day one. Dickie in turn calls Tom a mooch even though spends all his time mooching off his father's money.
  • If I Can't Have You…: The real reason why Tom murders Dickie.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Tom to Dickie, to the extent that he starts dressing in Dickie's clothes — and later steals his identity.
  • I Love the Dead: After killing Dickie, Tom cuddles up next to him in the classic "afterglow" position, though it mercifully doesn't go any further than that (not that we see).
  • Incompatible Orientation: In a departure from the more ambiguous novel, the film more-or-less explicitly states that Tom is attracted to Dickie. Dickie is heterosexual, and by the time of their trip to San Remo, he admits that he no longer really likes Tom even platonically.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Dickie Greenleaf is a graduate of Princeton. Tom Ripley pretends he is a Princeton alumnus.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Freddie is a rude, crude jerk, but he's correctly suspicious of Tom the moment he meets him and calls him out on his freeloading and perversity.
    • Dickie as well, a self-centered cad who cheats on his girlfriend, then ditches the other woman when she gets pregnant, but quite accurately sums up Tom's leeching, social-climbing ways.
    • Tom himself accurately calls Dickie out on his bullshit and the crappy way he treats people — claiming that he loves Marge and is going to marry her even though he cheats on her left and right.
  • Just in Time: Peter's arrival at Tom's apartment in all likelihood saved Marge's life (she'd found Dickie's rings among Tom's things and realized what he'd done).
  • Karma Houdini: Tom gets away with three murders, with only Marge even suspecting him.
  • Loving a Shadow: One of the film's main themes. Tom falls in love with an idealised, fantasy-image of Dickie. Phillip, much more innocently, does the same with Tom. Neither ends well.
    • Marge also admits to Tom that although Dickie is good at inspiring people's devotion with his charisma he's a very difficult and temperamental man to date, suggesting that this trope is also true regarding her relationship with him.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Tom forges a suicide note from Dickie. Everyone is fooled except Marge.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Tom. While generally amicable, he's a master at getting people to do what he wants. In one scene he engineers a meeting between Marge and Meredith so that they can realize that Dickie is a jerk who's been stringing them both along and thus make Marge give up on trying to find out what's happened to him. In truth, he's been posing as Dickie while courting Meredith.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: For the first act of the film, everything's going quite splendidly for all the main characters, but soon you feel deeply uncomfortable by this feeling of general unease that the situations the narrative is concocting are inexplicably giving you. Then someone's head gets smashed in, and the murderer must navigate his way through an endless series of exchanges and meetings in which his dirty little secrets are almost exposed. The almost farcical levels of suspenseful complications that occur during these exchanges is terrifying enough, but the most viscerally, nauseatingly scary aspect about them is that they are incredibly drawn-out and often do not have a violent payoff... which makes the instances where shit really does go down all the more unnerving. Worst of all, though, is that the film never eases up on this tension.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The opening credits roll over a scene of Tom alone in a room, sitting on a bed and looking distant and haunted. The film ends on the same scene, in which we now know he's just murdered Peter, the only person who ever really cared about the real Tom Ripley, in order to preserve his web of deception.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Jude Law clearly loses his American accent in a scene where Dickie admonishes Tom for cleaning up after him (a typical "highly emotional" scene where even the best actors can have trouble maintaining an unnatural accent).
    • Cate Blanchett's American accent sometimes sounds strange and forced.
  • The Peeping Tom: Literally, in a scene where he eyes Dickie and Marge as they make love. The creepiness is ratcheted up by the fact that you genuinely can't tell which one of them he's more jealous of.
  • Private Detective: Dickie's father hires one. It produces a nice Red Herring moment when the audience assumes that Tom's goose is cooked thanks to the man's brusque, abrasive, no-nonsense manner. It turns out he's found out even more sordid things about Dickie and assumes like everyone else that he's abandoned everyone.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Ripley has to kill his beloved Peter in order to escape being caught. The movie ends with Tom sobbing as he strangles his lover.
  • Red Herring: The private detective's brusque, abrasive, no-nonsense manner makes Tom and the audience think he's found out what Tom's done. It turns out he's found out even more sordid things about Dickie and assumes like everyone else that he's abandoned everyone.
  • Sadistic Choice: When Tom finds himself on a boat with Peter and Meredith, who know him as Tom and Dickie, respectively, he soon realises that he has to ensure that his identity theft won't be exposed; although he genuinely cares about Peter more than Meredith, he is forced to kill Peter because Meredith was travelling with other people who would realise if she went missing.
  • Villain Protagonist: The story follows Tom who kills people and forges identities.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Aside from lying that Dickie hit him in order to retain Marge's sympathy, Tom pretends that his feelings are hurt by Marge's suspicions in order to gain similar sympathy from Peter.

"I always thought it'd be better... to be a fake somebody... than a real nobody."