In the wake of the death of one Philip Seymour Hoffman, many folks went back to watch movies from the filmography he left behind. Of course, if you had already seen the vast majority of it, and wanted something new, you may not have had much to choose from, especially if you didn't want to bother with something like Along Came Polly. As such, you could perhaps have found yourself in the position of watching 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Sure, Hoffman's role is small, but he is quite impressive, even if it is Cate Blanchett who really steals the show.
Indeed, this is a movie with a stacked cast. Matt Damon stars as the titular Mr. Ripley, whose only talent seems to be being a morally bankrupt con man. In addition to Hoffman and Blanchett, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow have key secondary roles. Also, Philip Baker Hall shows up, and that's always fun. Tom Ripley finds himself shuffled off to Italy to try and track down Dickie Greenleaf, played by Law, and he suddenly finds himself living among the idle, boorish rich. And he very much would like to stay, and the clear homosexual undertone adds to the intensity of Mr. Ripley, even if it does make the movie a bit more of an erotic thriller than you might have otherwise expected.
Although, weirdly, the movie is not that "thrilling" for a thriller. It's just more disquieting and offputting and what have you. This isn't a movie about Ripley trying to weasel his way into these people's lives or any sort of desire of violence. He's just a simpering dreamer who is pretty cool with using violence and deceit when the time comes. That makes him that much more unsettling of a character. He's not Anton Chigurgh. He's just a dude who falls in love with some asshole, and the disaster that unfolds.
Damon is fine as the lead, but it is the secondary characters that gives this movie any value. Law's Dickie Greenleaf is such an ugly, and rich, American that it makes you really want to root against him. Hoffman plays his friend Freddie, and, naturally, he is excellent with his limited screen time as basically just another Dickie, but one that is vying for the real Dickie's attention with Tom. The women get to have a bit less fun in their roles, but Blanchett is still so great, it may make you wish she was in the movie more. Of course, that is generally the case with any Blanchett role.
The plot isn't terribly great. It meanders at times, and does not have the intensity that it perhaps should. The film wants to work at a slow pace, and that's fine, but it would be nice if it had more to it, as pretty shots of Italy can only take you so far, especially if you aren't that interested in a filmed trip around Italy with death in it. The ending is also less than satisfactory. Apparently this movie is based on one of a series of book. It is puzzling why anybody would want to spend all that much time with a character like Tom Ripley. One 139-minute movie more than suffices.
If you like to watch people acting for the sake of watching great acting, then The Talented Mr. Ripley is for you. Overall, it's a good movie. There's nothing special to it aside from its cast, but what a cast. When people like Hoffman and Blanchett, two of the greatest actors of their generation, are playing bit parts, you know things are good. Director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella would have been better served to be a bit less self-indulgent, and to ratchet up the intensity, but despite that he managed to create a film that is at least somewhat interesting, and certainly well-shot. The movie may also make you cast a jaundiced eye toward any overeager stranger who tracks you down in a foreign country, which is a good lesson for us all to learn.