Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rippin' Good: "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999)

I am not a huge fan of the Matt Damon-Ben Affleck-Gwyneth Paltrow triumvirate.

Paltrow comes off as a ditz in most of her films, her entire repertoire consisting of a coy grin (like Julia Roberts). Affleck does not know how to act, as I have watched him bring down entire films like "Chasing Amy" and "Reindeer Games." He cowrote an Oscar winning script, he just cannot pick one to star in. Damon comes off best of the three. His Will Hunting was very good, and I think he has more acting talent in his toothy grin than Robert Redford does in his entire weathered body.

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" is Damon's film. He should get kudos for playing the kind of part (gay psycho) that most heartthrobs whose careers are stalled on the WB would never even consider. This is a brave followup to "Good Will Hunting."

Damon is hired by a wealthy ship builder to go to Italy to retrieve his spoiled son (played by Jude Law). Law is partying it up with galpal Paltrow and another rich expatriate Hoffman. Things go awry when Damon wants to be like Law so bad he murders him and assumes his identity, with former friends and police hot on his trail.

Anthony Minghella does a better job directing than scripting here. Sure, nice Italian scenery (not many directors could foul that up), but the moments of violence are still shocking, and the cinematography is perfect. His script, however, is bland. All of his "society" characters are bland. Ripley's motivations and obvious mental illness just never gel. I always got the sense that Damon was told to hold back, when in fact intelligent psychotic killers have been around on film for years. The movie should have been right at two hours, instead of the protracted ending on the boat (with literally a handful of shots where I expected the credits to roll). Cate Blanchett's character also defies logic, as her character pops up to complicate Ripley's life about three times too often.

Damon, and an oily Phillip Seymour Hoffman are excellent. Jude Law lets his accent slip a bit here and there, but is good. Paltrow plays a socialite extremely well, and all the beautiful people are surrounded by beautiful scenery.

I recommend "The Talented Mr. Ripley," especially over Minghella's leaden "The English Patient." (* * * *) out of five stars.