I wouldn’t exactly call The Talented Mr. Ripley all that talented. He’s not so skilled at his sociopathy that you marvel at what he does. He just seizes a moment when it’s presented to him and makes it more beneficial to him. Though, in essence, he does get away with behavior that other films would not otherwise let him get away with, but it’s easy to see how his tendencies could bloom from a background of being a “nobody” and otherwise ignored.
Jude Law plays annoying spoiled-rich-boy Dickie, a character we’ve seen in hundreds of films and who always deserves what’s coming to him, and Gwyneth Paltrow is, well, Gwyneth Paltrow as his girlfriend, Marge. This film has been criticized for its pacing, and rightfully so. You know that extra 18 minutes that surpasses the film’s two hours of run time? Yeah, shaving that off would have probably been beneficial overall. The movie definitely drags on for a better part of its middle.
I found it kind of funny that the film is about Matt Damon playing someone he’s not, yet actors like Law and Cate Blanchett disguised their real accents to play Americans...in a film that takes place in Italy. So the film is more about people who aren’t playing themselves (save for Paltrow and Coupling’s Jack Davenport) than was quite possibly originally intended.
You can hear Law’s accent peeking through at times, though Davenport is allowed to keep his - why? Is the fact that he’s British inconsequential to the material, and does it have to do with nothing more than England’s close geographical proximity to Italy?
[POTENTIAL SPOILERS HERE]
So back to my taking issue with how “talented” Ripley is - he doesn’t plan to get away with murder so much as the odds just happen to luckily turn in his favor - and numerous times, too. It seems almost silly that he turns to murder as a savior when his first brush with it was an accident - sort of. Heck, was that even his first? After all, we don’t know much about his New York past and we never really find out.
Because we don’t have a better understanding of Ripley’s life of loserdom, it’s harder to comprehend his actions. Sure, he was romanticized by the idea of Dickie’s privileged life, and he was obviously deeply hurt when Dickie told him how “boring” he could be, but didn’t Dickie’s boredom with Ripley seem to come out of left field? How did they go from being “brothers” and maybe even potential lovers to Dickie throwing him out like a used shoe? Perhaps it traces back to Dickie’s spoiled attitude, but it felt more like a plot device that didn’t quite fit.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen too many of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s films - in fact, I can’t really remember seeing any - so this probably wasn’t a great introduction. From what I’ve heard, he was an amazing actor, and his role here was rather small. While some small roles steal the screen, this wasn’t one of them.
Another late great, Roger Ebert, said of this film that Damon actually makes you want to root for him to “get away with it,” but I found the opposite was true. I actually liked Damon a little less after watching this film, which I suppose means he did a great job with the role.