Bright Lights Film Journal

The Complex Art of Murder: <em>The Talented Mr. Ripley</em> (1999)

Someday someone will tease apart the many layers of Damon’s performance: the charming Ripley, the frightened Ripley, the exposed Ripley, his voice subtly betraying him even as face remains serene. (He even finds a way to make the sentence “Hello, Marge” sound nakedly revealing in an otherwise innocuous exchange.)

* * *

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) begins with a deluge of adjectives spilling onto the screen, searching for the best word to describe the protagonist, before finally settling on talented. It’s a tiny detail but a telling one, hinting both at the playfulness of the film to come – like Humbert Humbert dexterously exercising his wit before settling into his tale of depravity – as well as its keen intelligence, acknowledging that the best characters are too complicated to be summed up in a single word. Naturally, by film’s end, Ripley will have proven himself worthy of each of these attributes, from lonely to confused to tender, as well as many others considerably more odious in nature. The movie is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, itself unabashedly derivative of The Ambassadors by Henry James, which, in Highsmith’s book, actually makes its way into the protagonist’s suitcase. Though the styles of the two novels are distinctly dissimilar, about as alike as tulips and poison ivy, they each flower from a common theme: both illustrate the siren-like pull of Europe on the minds of impressionable Americans and the accompanying crisis of selfhood that ensues.

It is thus natural that the film opens with a mix-up of identities. At a Manhattan party, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), an impoverished piano-tuner, is mistaken for a wealthy Princeton blueblood. Believing the young man to be a college classmate of his son, Dickie, a shipping magnate named Greenleaf, sends Tom on an errand: to retrieve Dickie from Italy. Broke and struggling to get by in New York, Tom plays along, taking the free trip and the chance to see the world, little realizing that this first, seemingly harmless transgression – a crime more of omission that commission – will lead him to much greater sins. Before he has even fully disembarked in Naples, in fact, he has already convinced a fellow tourist, Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett), that he is Dickie Greenleaf. When he meets the actual Dickie (Jude Law), however, he tells the truth, spilling his real purpose in coming to Europe. Charmed by Tom’s frankness, Dickie lets him move in with him while they fleece his father for as much money as they can get. Tom quickly falls in love with Dickie’s European lifestyle: his boat, his clothes, his seaside villa, his love of jazz, and, this being Highsmith, Dickie himself. Unhappily for Tom, Dickie shares none of his Uranian longings, being too busy with his fiancé, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) – that is, when he’s not bedding local beauties on the side.

The trouble starts when Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) shows up. A boorish snob, Freddie instantly spots Tom for the hanger-on he is and takes unconcealed delight in probing his every weakness, humiliating him in front of the others. When Tom’s money runs out, Dickie tries to send him packing, but Tom, in a moment of panic and fury, lashes out and murders him on a motorboat, while they drift on an empty, waveless stretch of sea. Needless to say, by now any lingering hints of Henry James have vanished. From here, the story takes a sharp turn, as Tom decides to assume Dickie’s identity. He steals Dickie’s passport and wallet, begins drawing on Dickie’s bank account, and sets himself up in Rome in the style he has always dreamed of. All goes well until Freddie arrives again, at which point Tom’s powers of deception are truly put to the test as he is forced to elude, not just Freddie, but Marge, Dickie’s father, a private detective named MacCarron, and the Italian police.

Highsmith published the novel in 1955, but the director, Anthony Minghella, turns the clock forward a couple of years, a mite closer to Fellini’s Rome than Rossellini’s. Sometimes you almost feel that Damon and Law might turn a corner and bump into Marcello Mastroianni. The book was adapted for the screen once before in Plein Soleil (1960), with Alain Delon in the lead. The problem with that film was that it wasn’t any good. As Minghella once pointed out, “When you cast Alain Delon as Ripley, it’s very hard to imagine him ever wanting to be anybody else, particularly as everybody who watched the film wanted to be him”1. For the role of Dickie, Minghella had the good sense to cast Jude Law, an actor so handsome even the young Delon would have killed to have his face. With his bronzed skin and svelte physique, Law exudes more sexual energy than any actor since Paul Newman strode in off the range in Hud (1963). He wears his pants rolled up at the ankles and always seems to leave a couple of buttons on his shirt undone, exposing curls of chest hair, as though he were a satyr in pressed slacks. At heart, Dickie is a fairly contemptible character, though, callow, selfish, deceitful, a bit obnoxious, and really rather dim. You sense that he’s a person who is perpetually bored with life, always in search of new excitement, the type of man who’d go mad if he ever tried to spend a quiet evening with a book. Yet, despite all this, it’s impossible not to be seduced by him, to envy him, so off the charts is his level of cool. That’s part of the film’s genius: it makes Ripleys of us all.

Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf (in mirror), with Damon

The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of those movies that you must watch twice (at least twice) if you want to catch hold of all its many impressions. Scenes that seemed merely colorful or expository the first time round will, with a second viewing, reveal themselves to be palpitating with portent. There is, for instance, the scene early in the film in which Dickie takes Tom to a local jazz dive, where they join the band onstage to sing “Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano.” For those who have only seen the film once, this will most likely seem a sporty musical interlude, a joyous kickoff to Tom’s trip in Italy. Watch it a second time, though, and it’ll be impossible not to notice the looks of longing that Tom drapes over Dickie as the other man sings. For myself, I initially wondered what Gwyneth Paltrow was doing in the movie; for such a strong actress, fresh from her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (1998), the part of Marge seemed uncomfortably small for her. It’s hard not to notice that she gets so much less screen time than any of the boys. Over the years, though, I’ve come to savor her character more than almost any other. She’s the real victim of Tom’s crimes, the only truly innocent person in the whole movie. In the beginning of the film, she is so warm and inviting, accepting Tom long before Dickie does. By the end, though, thanks to his cruel machinations, she has turned pale, austere, and suspicious, a shell of her former self. In one scene in Venice, while Tom talks, she tells you just by the tilt of her head and the way she eyes him over her cigarette just how much she too has come to despise him.

When the movie came out, many critics grumbled that the screen hero strayed too far from his literary cousin. “Damon’s Ripley is more nervous neophyte than sociopathic pro,” Anthony Lane griped in The New Yorker, “he kills Dickie in a taunted panic, and Minghella is careful to scotch any murmur of premeditation”2. A fair complaint, I suppose, if the measure of a film adaptation is unwavering fidelity to its literary source, but hardly worthy of lovers of nuanced character, or even lovers of Ripley, for that matter, who was rarely faithful to anyone, let alone himself. In the novel, Tom is an epicurean psychopath, clever, charming, fond of fine wines and the best clothes. Yet, except for his homicidal tendencies (or perhaps because of them), Ripley is a fairly shallow character, seemingly incapable of expressing any emotion other than anxiety or scorn. He’s really only interesting when he’s killing people, which, in a way, explains why he keeps doing it. Trying to picture him at ease with his wealth, comfortably ensconced in some alpine villa, is about as exciting as imagining Hannibal Lecter on a diet of nuts and berries. The Ripley of the novel was like an arsonist, snidely torching the social hierarchy that refused him admittance; the Ripley of the film is more like Charlie Chaplin in a china shop: every time he reaches to pick up a broken plate, he crashes into another shelf. It’s precisely this kind of droll misfortune that Highsmith’s novel was desperately lacking. The Tom of the film isn’t exactly a comic character, but there’s something undeniably humorous about his dilemma, always wriggling free of one trap to find himself ensnared in another, like Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (1938), forever falling victim to the machinations of Katharine Hepburn.

Yet he’s also a tragic character, sensitive and vulnerable, eaten up, even before the murders, with a debilitating case of self-loathing. “If I could just go back,” he tells us, in the beginning of the film. “If I could rub everything out, starting with myself.” Since the screenplay was written by an Englishman, Ripley’s dilemma is, naturally, one of class. When we first meet him, he is a poor young man living in a New York basement, his face almost literally pressed up against the window of the world, watching from without. We catch him peeking through a curtain at the opera house where he works and sneaking out to play the piano onstage when the theater has emptied. By the film’s conclusion, he will be on the other side of that curtain, with his own box seats to the opera and enough money to fob his way into high society. Yet, like any good psychologist, Minghella knows that, much as you can fool the world, you can never fool yourself. Even after he’s gotten everything he ever wanted, Ripley cannot escape his own overwhelming sense of inferiority. “I always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody,” he explains at the film’s close, “than a real nobody.” This makes for good psychological exposition, laying bare our hero’s penchant for deceit, but it also makes the screen Ripley infinitely more accessible than his counterpart on the page. After all, what in the human condition is more commonplace than insecurity?

Alain Delon in Purple Noon

Thus far, Ripley has made it to the screen five times. In addition to Damon, he has been portrayed by Alain Delon, Dennis Hopper, Barry Pepper, and John Malkovich. As far as fidelity to the novel goes, Malkovich probably catches the character best, with his soft, almost effeminate intonation and his air of urbane ennui. But only Damon expands what Ripley can and should be. Along with Edward Norton, who costarred with him in Rounders (1998), Damon has proved himself one of the most dependable movie actors of his generation. Though he has yet to display the broad spectrum of characters available to, say, a Daniel Day-Lewis, he is never less than fascinating to watch. Perhaps nobody since Sam Neill in Dead Calm (1989) has done so much with so few words. You can even see it in the Bourne trilogy. Silly as those movies were, part of their allure, part of what raised them above the usual shoot-em-up fare, was Damon’s ability to express thought soundlessly. Even at his stillest, gazing inconspicuously from a Berlin rooftop or crouched, gun drawn, before a battle, you could see the gears spinning a mile a minute in his head.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles, with Damon

Ripley is much the same way, a man chary of words but dripping a trail of emotions behind him like a wounded animal. Someday someone will tease apart the many layers of Damon’s performance: the charming Ripley, the frightened Ripley, the exposed Ripley, his voice subtly betraying him even as face remains serene. (He even finds a way to make the sentence “Hello, Marge” sound nakedly revealing in an otherwise innocuous exchange.) His scenes with Philip Seymour Hoffman are masterpieces of acting technique, played out between two finely tuned but stylistically dissimilar athletes – Ali and Foreman, maybe, or Nadal and Federer – Hoffman slugging hard and throwing his weight around, Damon counterpunching gracefully from the ropes. Ever since strolling onto the schoolyard in Scent of a Woman (1991), Hoffman has had a knack for stealing scenes from even the most commanding performers. It’s not that he chews scenery the way Brian Cox does, but that, with no more than a glance or a toss of his flaxen hair, he can make everyone else in the room look as stiff as Ronald Reagan when he acted opposite Errol Flynn. It’s no different here, and Hoffman turns Freddie into a deliciously condescending cad, with a gravely drawl and a limp-wristed indolence that might seem homoerotic if he weren’t ogling every skirt in sight. The amazing thing is that Damon keeps pace with him, a feat made even more impressive when you consider the fact that he really has the tougher role of the two. While Hoffman acts, Damon reacts. In one scene in Ripley’s apartment, Freddie shows up unannounced (looking for Dickie, of course) and, in a quite literal attempt to push Ripley’s buttons, begins violently plunking the keys on his prized piano. If you want to see a look that speaks volumes, check out the expression on Damon’s face at that moment. As the camera bores in, his mouth slowly twists into a smile, not a joyous smile, mind you, but the type of defensive smile you sometimes see on the face of the class nerd while the bullies rain him with jibes. It tells you just how much Ripley hates Freddie and how much he wants to kill him, which, being Ripley, he does barely two minutes later, braining him with a bust of Hadrian he finds handy.

The most appealing part about Ripley, though, from an actor’s point of view, is that he is not one character but two: he is Ripley, of course, shy, unworldly, and unconfident, but also Dickie, or at least his own suave projection of Dickie. As the law closes in on him after Freddie’s death, he bounces back and forth between identities like a pinball, posing as Dickie one moment and Tom the next, changing personas as nimbly as Dustin Hoffman did in Tootsie (1982). The movie would have never worked so well were Damon not able to slip so comfortably into both parts. As Dickie, he is everything that Tom Ripley is not: refined, witty, self-possessed, and even, when he puts his mind to it, seductive. When, midway through the story, he again encounters Meredith Logue – who, remember, thought he was Dickie Greenleaf from the very beginning – his charm flicks on like a flashlight, and in no time he’s got her wrapped around his little finger. In part, this is because Meredith is such an easy quarry, an insecure young woman captivated by anything that resembles culture and confidence: in other words, a female reflection of Ripley. But it’s also because, in the guise of Dickie, Tom can throw off the pesky neuroses that kept him tied down as Ripley and truly become someone else. In this sense, the role can be seen as a metaphor for the vocation of acting itself. It is a role within a role, the story of an actor diving headlong into a part because, as actors so often do, he yearns to escape from himself.

Cate Blanchett as Meredith Logue, with Damon

Then again, one can just as easily see what drew the director to the character. Like any good filmmaker, Tom is fashioning a believable world out of fiction, manipulating characters to his liking, writing his own story, planning ahead when he can but improvising on the spot if the situation calls for it. When Marge and Meredith each suggest they meet him for lunch, he schedules both assignations for the same time and place (the Piazza di Espana, before the Spanish steps) and then, like a stage manager watching from the gallery, peers down on the drama he has set in motion: one lover confirming his phony reality for the other. Likewise, his suicide letter (as Dickie) to himself (as Tom) is a masterpiece of suggestion and backstory, worthy of making any screenwriter proud, cleverly hinting at emotional bonds and promises that, in actuality, never existed. “I wish I could give you the life I took for granted,” he writes. “I suppose that’s why I’m writing you this, the brother I never had. The only true friend I ever had. In all kinds of ways you’re much more like the son my father always wanted.” This also makes possible a kind of wicked punning on Ripley’s part. “Whenever Dickie does something, I feel guilty,” he tells Marge at one point, which, if you think about it, is either a very dark joke or one of the few genuinely honest admissions he ever utters.

Both Patricia Highsmith and Anthony Minghella noted the metatextual quality of the character. “I often had the feeling Ripley was writing it and I was merely typing,” Highsmith once said,3 and, watching the film, you can feel Minghella doing the filmmaker’s equivalent: letting the picture project from the protagonist’s eyes. The film is almost completely subjected to Ripley’s point of view. Not only is he in every scene, but the camera always seems to be picking up his perspective, alighting on the types of objects that would catch Ripley’s fancy: a ring, a watch, a cigarette held to someone’s lips, the fine hairs on the back of a man’s hand. “[Ripley is] a man who’s obsessed with image and surface and beauty,” Minghella explains. “Just as Patricia Highsmith talked about [how] she felt that Ripley had stolen the typewriter and written the story, I felt as if it was an obligation for me to let Ripley steal the camera and make the film”4.

Before his premature death in 2008, Anthony Minghella had the kind of career that most filmmakers can only dream of, a mixture, in nearly equal parts, of box office success, critical praise, and artistic freedom. He was born in 1954 on the Isle of Wight, where his father, an Italian immigrant, owned an ice cream store. If you wish to trace the origins of the screen Ripley (as opposed to the Ripley of the novel), this is where you begin. Minghella once stated that his earliest memory of the cinema was carrying tubs of ice cream down the aisles of the movie house during intermissions, able only to catch fleeting glimpses of the films themselves5. “I always think that I belong in the tradesmen’s entrance,” he confided years later.6 It’s when you hear testimony like this that you realize that the movie Ripley could have only been conjured by an Englishman: no modern American could have conceived the degree to which class haunts him. As soon as he sets foot in Italy, he stands apart from Dickie and the other idle rich, his alabaster skin revealing just as much, in this land of nut-brown bodies, as a cockney accent or a carpenter’s calluses. While Dickie can neither drive nor type, despite his high-priced education, Tom can’t ski or sail, which, in the world he has just entered, makes him about as socially adept as Kaspar Hauser. To not simply find these details but to deliver them with the appropriate dose of abasement could only have been done by a man who had, at one point or another, experienced them himself firsthand.

Minghella went to the University of Hull, in the north of England, where, not knowing what else to study, he fell into playwriting. As it turned out, this was the ideal fit for him. His first play was produced when he was twenty-one, an adaptation of Mobius the Stripper, but he found his first big success in 1985, with his play Whale Music, about a young, unwed woman who returns to the Isle of Wight to have her baby. Even for an established playwright, though, the financial rewards of the stage can be meager, and so, like so many other writers, Minghella turned to television, scripting such shows as Maybury, Grange Hill, Inspector Morse, and Jim Henson’s The Storyteller.

At each fork in his career path, serendipity seemed to lend him a hand. He got his first job in television the day after he arrived in London, and, when the time came that he wanted to direct, he got to pick his own project. Offered the opportunity to direct an episode of Inspector Morse, the popular crime series, he turned it down, for fear that, with such a wide audience watching, he would feel overwhelmed by the pressure. He chose, instead, a strange, quiet, character-driven project for British television that he’d written himself, titled Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990): the tale of a cellist who returns from the dead to be with his grieving girlfriend. What he didn’t anticipate was that this tiny film, shot in twenty-eight days on 16mm, would gain such a following. It was picked up for distribution by the Samuel Goldwyn Company, blown up to 35mm, and given a theatrical release, becoming a surprise art house hit. Upon arriving in Hollywood, Minghella found a career waiting for him that he hadn’t anticipated. “When I first started writing plays, I wrote plays to direct, not plays for other people. I’d let go of that as I’d begun to develop a real career as a writer, and I was experimenting with returning to being a director when I made Truly, Madly, Deeply,” he explained. “It certainly wasn’t an attempt to embark on a directing career.”7

Nonetheless, embark he did. International renown greeted his 1996 film The English Patient – it won nine Academy Awards, including Best Director – and if, in retrospect, the hype seems somewhat overblown, the film remains an impressive piece of work, luscious and expansive, yet ever-attuned to the tribulations of the human heart. It felt like a throwback to another era of filmmaking. When Katherine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) spend the night trapped in the cab of a truck, sand drifts mounting against the windows outside, the moment feels so intimate and fraught with longing that when they actually have sex, a day or so later, the act itself almost seems superfluous: after the tumult of the desert, how can an ordinary bedroom contain their passions? The problem with the film is it’s too expansive. Minghella creates such a fully realized world that the supporting characters keep threatening to run off with the storyline, knocking the narrative off its tracks. A Canadian nurse, a thumbless thief, a Sikh sapper and his daffy British partner – all insist so stridently on their importance that, by film’s end, the least interesting people in the picture seem to be its central lovers. Minghella himself admitted to encountering a certain formlessness when he entered the editing room. “You could pick up a scene and move it by an hour and it worked,” he explained. “So it became a film poem, and for some people that was exhilarating, but for others that was hard to embrace”8.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is, by contrast, as sleek as a racing hound, its every muscle honed for a precise purpose, from the picture-cleaving credits that open the film, suggesting the emotional crackups to come, to the choice of opera that Tom watches in Rome (Eugene Onegin), to the final shot of the picture, as the camera edges slowly backward, like the protagonist himself, reluctantly returning to the closet. John Seale’s camera seems to have an almost insatiable appetite for imagery, feasting on every detail it can find – the dun-colored thicket of umbrellas that covers the beach at noon, the navy blue of a bus as it winds its way down the Mediterranean hillside, the patter of a metal brush as it dances on the head of a snare drum – yet every one as essential to the picture as the piece of a puzzle. Some compositions tell you more than an entire page of dialogue ever could: the shot, for instance, lifted from a Cartier-Bresson photograph, of a man seated on another man’s lap and fixing his tie, while the two of them check out a passing girl. The Bresson photograph, though, remains, at its heart, enigmatic (that is what makes it striking), capturing a truly singular moment in time, while, by making Tom witness to this scene, Minghella creates a visual metaphor for his sexual amorphousness, as well as highlighting his excruciating loneliness. How much, you realize, he too longs to sit on another man’s knee, if only he had the courage to do so. Perhaps the most breathtaking shot in the film, however, is also one of the simplest. It comes about two-thirds of the way through the film, as Tom, giving up his life as Dickie, prepares to leave his apartment. As he closes the lid on his piano and slips back on his glasses, we see his reflection break in two upon the wood: the dual sides of his nature splitting apart as he walks away from everything he ever dreamed of.

Minghella’s early ambition in life was to be a musician, and you can sense this watching his films; the original title of Truly, Madly, Deeply was Cello, so intrinsic is that instrument to the story. Most directors lay the music down over their movies last, like a shiny coat of paint, adding color and verve to something that is already essentially finished. Minghella, on the other hand, molds it into the very foundation of his films. “I’m interested in trying to make music be part of the skeleton of the film,” he has said. “The way that I do that is both to write music into the film from the first draft of the screenplay but also to use Gabriel Yared, the composer I work with. He gets involved before the first draft of the screenplay, when I’m still thinking about the film”9. Both Tom and Dickie play instruments, and in each case their musical tastes tell you much about their character. Tom’s preference is for Bach – stately, serene, conservative – while Dickie is partial to Charlie Parker and Chet Baker, masters of improvisation, of living in the moment and throwing caution to the wind. In part, The Talented Mr. Ripley is the story of how a Bach person becomes a Charlie Parker person. Not only must Tom learn to love jazz and to play it proficiently, but he must also turn himself into a virtuosic improviser, trumpeting out lies as they come to him on the spot. In this regard, he is a much more proficient performer than Dickie, who turns out, despite his affinity for jazz, to have scant musical talent, playing the saxophone only passably and telling lies that only somebody as trusting as Marge could believe. In this sense, Tom’s affinity for Baroque music is doubly telling. Bach may have been a conservative at heart, but he was also the great musical improviser of his age.

The Talented Mr. Ripley never got the kind of acclaim that The English Patient received. Perhaps this was because it strayed so far from Highsmith’s icy vision of the world, perhaps because The English Patient had set the bar so high. Yet, in addition to being a better film, it is also the more obviously personal of the two, incorporating bits of the director’s own biography – his relative poverty as a youth and his discomfort, as an adult, at being a parvenu – as well as a filmmaker’s ideal of the past, a vision of fifties Italy glimpsed through the films of Fellini, Antonioni, and De Sica. The town of Mongibello (itself a concoction of Highsmith’s imagination) is not really one town but many towns, cobbled together from parts of the islands of Ischia and Procida in the Bay of Naples. To make the geography even more confusing, the club in Naples that Ripley and Dickie go to was actually shot in Rome, the opera house that Tom visits in Rome was really located in Naples, and parts of the Italian mainland were in filmed in Sicily. “We drew a map,” Minghella explained, describing the tangle of locations he and his crew were forced to confront, “and from one street to another I think it was [a distance of] three hundred miles”10. Naturally, the coastal weather didn’t cooperate much with them either. “One of the things that tormented us as filmmakers on the movie was we had to deliver this gorgeous Mediterranean world, this beautiful world of Southern Italy, and we could never get Italy to turn beautiful,” Minghella lamented. “We would divide the scenes up, often into words, and go out and get two or three words and then it would start to rain and we’d have to go back in again”11. Perhaps most challenging was the scene in front of the Spanish steps. The crew was given a mere twenty-four hours to dress the buildings in period detail (including constructing the fictitious Café Dinella), film the lengthy scene, and return the Piazza to its contemporary state, while all around them thousands of tourists swarmed and gawkers craned their necks to get a glimpse of Gwyneth Paltrow sipping coffee in her chic cream-colored coat. “Shooting in this part of Italy,” said Minghella afterwards, “is the triumph of will over sanity”12.

Watching the film, though, you’d hardly believe it. Indeed, so precisely does the weather parallel the mood of the protagonist, one might be inclined to imagine that Nature bent to Minghella’s will and not vice versa. Italy has never looked more seductive than it does during Tom’s first halcyon days in the country, ambling down the cobblestone streets with Marge or clinging to Dickie’s waist on the back of a sputtering Vespa. Yet, as the story darkens, following Tom’s transformation from naïve innocent to clever criminal to petrified prey, hounded by guilt as much as the law, the skies turn leaden and cold, mirroring the murk of his own conscience. More so than any of the other Ripley adaptations, this one pursues both the light and dark sides of the character’s deeds: the devilish pleasure to be had in a life of crime, as well as the shame and misery that such a life wreaks. Tom’s initial metamorphosis into Dickie is accompanied by a playful tinkling of a vibraphone, evocative of the early sixties compositions that Henri Mancini used in Charade (1963) and The Pink Panther (1963). At such moments, it’s hard not to feel a pang of vicarious pleasure while watching his mischievousness, at seeing him slip on a more glamorous identity as casually as though he were trying on a new Armani suit. After all, he may live the high life through Dickie, but we live it through him. However, when Marge appears at his door and, imagining Dickie to be listening on the other side, pleads with him to speak to her, the moment truly lances the heart. So too does the scene at the end of the film as Tom, weeping from the anguish of his own actions, strangles Peter Smith-Kingsley (Jack Davenport), his sweet-souled paramour and the only person in the whole film who might have loved him for who he actually is. It is here that Minghella and Damon reveal the true continent of possibilities available to Ripley. It lies not, as Highsmith thought, in expensive wines, exotic travels, and the denuding of ordinary human sympathies, but in the touchingly familiar emotions of a complex character, a man part hero, part villain, equally contemptible, pitiable, and appealing.


Guru. Anthony Minghella: A Life in Pictures. BAFTA webcast, December 2, 2006.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. Boston: The Writers Inc., 1966.

Lane, Anthony. Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker. New York: Random House, 2002.

Media Masterclass with Anthony Minghella on Directing Film.

Minghella, Anthony. Minghella on Minghella. Ed. Timothy Bricknell. London: Faber and Faber, 2005.

The Talented Mr. Ripley. Dir. Anthony Minghella. Bonus Features. Paramount Pictures, 1999. DVD.

  1. Minghella, p. 38. []
  2. Lane, p. 303. []
  3. Highsmith, p. 69. []
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley. []
  5. Media Masterclass. []
  6. Guru. []
  7. Minghella, p. 140. []
  8. Minghella, p. 113. []
  9. The Talented Mr. Ripley []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. Ibid. []
  12. Ibid. []