“The Talented Mr. Ripley” – Modern Classic

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a brilliant movie of glamour, deception, suspense and surprises. It absolutely deserves to be considered a modern classic.

Can Modern Movies Be Classics?

People who deeply love movies tend to gravitate towards others who feel the same. One way I assess whether a film is good is by watching those in the audience as they leave the theater. If everyone is on their cell phones the second the movie ends, planning what happens next, the movie has touched nothing in them. But when an audience stays to when the credits and begins talking immediately and you hear discussions going on as people walk up the aisle, you know the film made and impact. Social media has opened a whole new world of connection to movie buffs. Through Twitter, for instance, I am connected with people all over the world who love watching classic movies on TCM. One of the questions that pops up from time to time is how old a movie has to be in order to be considered a classic. It’s a question without an easy answer. Some films that are today considered “classics” were not particularly highly regarded when they were first released. It took decades before Its-A-Wonderful-Life“It’s a Wonderful Life” gained that title. The reverse is true, as well. There are many films that at the time of their releases are considered brilliant but whose reputation pales over the years. Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” was widely hailed when it was released in 1952. It won the Oscar for best picture. Today it is a dusty relic. “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man” came out at the same time. Today both are considered classics despite being passed over by many audiences. There is definitely an advantage to letting a consensus build over time. And there is nothing wrong with changing your mind. Many of us who love film have done that over the years. I can think of films that I used to think were wonderful that now seem hackneyed and tired. Likewise, there are films I “didn’t get” when they first came out and now I recognized them as masterpieces. Time has a way of expanding our frame of reference and sharpening our critical instincts.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” – Modern Classic

Some classic movie buffs are snobs who feel that “no good movies were made after ____” (fill in the blank). I heartily disagree. I think if Amy Adams or Johnny Depp had been making movies in the 1940s they would today be considered among the all-time great classic movie stars. And although the business of film has changed, I believe that a great director like Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks could adapt to modern tastes and still create great films. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a great example of a film that bridges the sensibilities of classic and modern cinema. It has the glamour, suspense, and great acting one would associate with a Hitchcock film. But unlike Brian de Palma, who simply tried to imitate Hitchcock, the great  Anthony Minghella creates a brilliant movie that looks like Hitchcock might have directed.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” – Plot In 99 Words

In late 1950s New York, Tom Ripley, a brilliant young underachiever with a talent for mimicry and a facility for lying is sent to Italy to retrieve a spoiled millionaire playboy. But when he gets a taste of the glamorous life of wealth to which he feels entitled, Ripley resorts to fraud, con artistry and ultimately murder while playing a high-stakes cat and mouse game with police and friends who suspect him. As his lies become more complex the suspense builds. Set against a glamorous view of Italy in the 1950s, The Talented Mr. Ripley combines glamour with suspense.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” – The Antihero As Star

One of the things that differentiates “The Talented Mr. Ripley” from the best work of Hitchcock is the hero is a scoundrel committing crimes. In most of Hitchcock’s greatest films, the hero was an innocent man pulled into a situation he did not quite understand and couldn’t quite escape. “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” based on a best-selling novel by Patricia Highsmith, turns that formula on its ear. As Ripley (played by Matt Damon) creates an ever more elaborate world of cons, deceits, lies and intrigue, the audience is drawn into rooting for him to get away with it. The brilliance of the direction is that the antihero, the amoral Mr. Ripley, has our sympathies.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” – Glamour And Suspense

One of the best American films ever set in Italy, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” uses the glamorous locations of that beautiful country to demonstrate how Ripley learns to assimilate himself into the wealthy playboy lifestyle. The first time he The Talented Mr. Ripley approaches his intended target, millionaire Dickie Greenleaf and his glamorous blonde girlfriend, Marge, we see a visual contrast on the beach that lets us know he doesn’t belong – yet. Matt Damon’s skin is almost translucent and he wears a fluorescent green bathing suit that makes him look completely out of place on this glamorous beach. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are tanned and glorious, The Talented Mr. Ripley wearing sophisticated suits whose color and style allow them to easily blend in to the luxurious surroundings. Again and again the film returns to the water to show us the transformation of Tom Ripley into one one who increasingly belongs in the jet set European lifestyle of the man he emulates. At first, Dickie Greenleaf is flattered by the attention and attempts to mentor Ripley. When they return to the beach later, Ripley now looks as if he belongs The Talented Mr. Ripley and is slowly taking over the life of an American playboy in Europe. The water has cleansed him and transformed him in a baptism of re-birthing and re-imagining.


“The Talented Mr. Ripley” – Modern Classic

I’ve attempted not to give away very much of the plot. One of the great joys of the suspense film is in not knowing what’s going to happen next. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” actually contains more close calls than the average Hitchcock film and moves at a quicker pace as befits a modern classic. The acting is excellent with Jude Law and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman particularly standing out for complex and nuanced performances. I find Matt Damon’s performance to be unsettling. He constantly keeps us off balance, adding to the suspense. Anthony Minghella died so young that he only got to direct nine feature films. The talent he exhibited in “Cold Mountain,” “The English Patient” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” leads to the conclusion that he might have emerged as one of the greatest film directors of all time.

Most suspense films – except for the very great ones – lose pleasure on repeated viewings. In Hitchcock’s greatest films, including “Vertigo,” and “Rear Window,” repeated viewings only enhance our enjoyment. The same can be said for “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Like Hitchcock’s European glamour pieces such as “To Catch a Thief,” the cinematography and setting become an integral part of the story. The brilliant cinematography of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” makes the film visually intoxicating while providing key visual plot clues.

The Beach Party Blogathon

This review is part of  a wonderful film Blogathon hosted by two wonderful people who are also fantastic film writers. Please click here to follow a link to the other entriesbeach-party-flipperAll films that have a connection with the beach. From silly to serious, classics to camp, these films become alive in the hands of such talented writers.




7 thoughts on ““The Talented Mr. Ripley” – Modern Classic

  1. You raise a lot of good points about this film. I never thought of it as a modern classic, but why couldn’t it be? The acting is superb, and the themes are thought-provoking. Plus, it’s so beautifully filmed. Thanks for bringing Mr Ripley to the Beach Party Blogathon!

    • Patricia,

      Thank you so much for reading my blog and your interesting comment. I went and read all of the Patricia Highsmith “Ripley” novels after seeing this film version. First, I thought that the movie did justice to the spirit of the book. Second, I felt that each successive novel began to lose a little steam. The second was quite good the third was okay and the fourth and fifth became difficult to sit through. I love that she followed the character in a logical timeline. It would’ve been very interesting if this film had been a big hit to see whether or not there would have been a sequel!

  2. You make a good point for considering Mr. Ripley a modern classic. It’s a fascinating character study and Matt Damon’s portrayal of Ripley is superb. The lush, European locations add visual interest and the suspense is palpable, throughout. I’ve seen it twice before and want to watch it again, now. Excellent review!

    • Debbie,

      Thank you for your great comments! I thought the use of many different parts of Italy was gorgeous and very evocative. And very tricky – remember that Ripley is set decades ago, so great care had to be taken to avoid any visual anachronisms. The use of color and lighting in both outdoor and indoor shots was deft and imaginative. Minghella and his cinematographer make every shot beautiful and important!

  3. Great discussion on how a film is classic!! While I love old movies, several of my favorite movies are more recent! And yes, they can be classics! (I like the layout of your post too.)

    I watched this film recently. Although it was a little too violent for me, I loved the on-location shooting. It does have a Hitchcock feel to it, though I probably would have never thought of it! I also loved Paltrow’s wardrobe. Some of her outfits made me think of Audrey Hepburn’s “Roman Holiday” outfit.

    • Phyl,

      Thank you for your nice comment! I see Ripley as very much a Hitchcock film for a new generation. It constantly builds suspense, works in a bit of surprise violence, and it is set among upper class people in a glamorous setting – all Hitchcock touches.

      I also love old movies – but not all old movies are classics and not all classics are old movies!


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