BY LUKE WATHEN
Some films, for better or worse, have no protagonist. There may be a main character or characters that serve as leads, but their actions are far from moral, relatable or heroic.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is one such movie and despite its lack of a protagonist, it excels on most every level.
Released in 1999 and set during the 1950s, the film follows the titular Tom Ripley, a charming young man who makes a meager living as a piano tuner and bathroom attendant in New York City. Fate strikes when he is given the chance to go to Italy in order to convince millionaire Herbert Greenleaf’s son to return home.
Once in Italy, Tom meets Greenleaf’s son Dickie and is instantly drawn in by his rich playboy lifestyle. As time goes by and Dickie tires of Tom, however, Tom takes desperate action to hold on to the debonair lifestyle to which he is now accustomed.
Despite its age, this movie definitely warrants revisiting. The main actors are all at their youthful peak and the plot stands the test of time with its simple, yet profound theme of man’s duality.
Matt Damon gives a powerhouse performance as Ripley, a man whose youthful charms gradually serve as a mask over a cold, sociopathic interior. Alongside him are Jude Law as trust fund baby Dickie Greenleaf, Gwyneth Paltrow as Dickie’s fiancé Marge Sherwood and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles, Dickie’s hedonistic best friend.
Law gives a stellar performance as a pampered socialite and Paltrow’s character is nothing short of sympathetic but the real standout amongst the supporting cast is Hoffman as Freddie Miles.
Throughout the film, Freddie parades himself down the streets of Italy, daintily flicking his wrist as he talks and viewing Tom Ripley with amused contempt, all the while drinking wine and indulging in the pleasures of the upper class. Though the character himself is nothing short of despicable, you cannot help but enjoy Hoffman’s delightfully over-the-top portrayal.
The film is an emotional thrill ride from start to finish. Initially feeling a sense of connection with Tom Ripley and his desires to escape his drab existence, the connection quickly turns to disdain as he uses and abuses all those around him in order to keep his lifestyle intact.
Yet through it all, a part of the viewer wants him to get away with his actions. Perhaps it is that initial view of Tom that the audience connects with, or perhaps it is just people’s investment in Matt Damon as an actor.
Either way, Damon presents Tom Ripley, consumed by passion, to shed his old life and adopt a grander one. Whether or not his actions are justified depends on the viewer, but Tom’s desire to stop being himself will resonate with many.
The movie is available on Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime for a small fee. Watch this movie alone—it is quite emotionally taxing and requires a good deal of concentration and contemplation.
After watching it, one may very well find themselves asking the same question asked on the film’s poster: How far would you go to become someone else?