What do you do when you love something so much you have to have it? When you hate something so much you have to destroy it? When you envy someone so much you want to become what he or she is? What do you do when you feel all those things at once? That's the situation faced by Matt Damon in writer-director Anthony Minghella's adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley. Damon plays the title character, a working-class '50s New Yorker with an appreciation for high culture and life's finer things and no means to access either. What he does possess, however, is a talent for impersonation and forgery, talents that earn him employment courtesy of an unwitting shipping magnate (James Rebhorn) who believes him an old school chum of his errant son (Jude Law). Sent by Rebhorn to retrieve Law from southern Italy and the company of girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow, Damon takes a strong liking to Law's American-slumming-abroad lifestyle, and a stronger liking to the fickle Law himself. Eventually, when Damon realizes the impossibility of his situation on all fronts, he takes drastic measures. In 1960, René Clement adapted the same novel as the marvelous Purple Noon, starring Alain Delon. Delon and Clement turned Ripley into an amoral maw of desire, which, aside from the film's decision to ignore the novel's homoerotic elements, has more in common with Highsmith's creation than Minghella and Damon's interpretation. But the poetic license taken in this new version pays off remarkably well. In a beautifully thoughtful performance, Damon plays Ripley as tortured and tragic, a little monstrous but also more than a little sympathetic. Just as importantly, Minghella's film—a predictably, but no less remarkably, handsome film from the director of The English Patient—works as a thriller, aided by a cast that includes Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport, and a notable cameo from Philip Baker Hall. It's immediately effective as a queasy, unsettling suspense film—one of the best in recent years—but expect it to linger in the mind for other reasons.
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