An unstable young man is sent to retrieve an American playboy from Italy at the request of the playboy's father.
Anthony Minghella was always going to have a devil of a job topping the nine Oscars and "new David Lean" tags lobbed at him after 1996's The English Patient. Already a preoccupation, he daringly chose to adapt Patricia Highsmith's 50s-set, flamboyant potboiler of murder and intrigue among American ex-pat playthings basking in the sunkissed beauty of the peerless Italian coastline. Something breezier, certainly sexier.
Ripley the novel is no English Patient; it's pure pulp fiction, thrilling but slight. However, Minghella is so committed to treating this appealingly lightweight thriller with such literary reverence and detail it becomes bogged down in long-winded characterisation and over-plotting.
It is also hard to love a film devoid of a sympathetic centre. It should be Paltrow's Marge, fiancée of the dapper and obnoxious Dickie Greenleaf (Law), but her typical remoteness - she is an actress designed for femme fatales, not soft centres - leaves her the sappiest character on show. Anyway, the script is far too wrapped up in Damon's Tom Ripley and his deception to notice her.
This bespectacled young man is the deeply unstable no-mark sent out to retrieve the errant wonder of Dickie for his weary father, and his immediate infatuation with the carefree jazz-fiend soon slips eerily into obsession, a fractured psyche consumed by its dark soul where murder will beget murder.It's a great performance, brave and complex, where Ripley's whispers of homosexuality are just one facet of the need to utterly possess this man he is so drawn to - Ripley, with his weird talent for mimicry, literally takes over his person. Jude Law delivers his doomed prey with deliciously vainglorious panache, where the hedonistic lure is as obvious as the inevitable abandonment; there are secret edges to his shiny shallowness. Quality stuff, but when the central character is a psychopath and his victims reprehensible brats, you get a film confused as to whether we should despise or root for his extraordinary madness. Amorality is fine and clever, but here it cuts all the graceful menace adrift.
Applying to it every inch of his luxuriant style (although the film is only intermittently beautiful), stuffing it to the gills with gorgeous talented young things (add Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman delivering scene stealing cameos) and launching it into the heart of the Oscar season reveals no small amount of Minghella self-confidence. If he did it once, he can do it again. Ripley, though, thrills most as a fascinating, good-but-not-great study of the outsider who will go to extreme lengths to lose himself. Ironically, less ambition would have paid more attractive dividends.
Amoral and beautifully shot drama.