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Thursday
May162013

The Mysterious Yearning Secretive Sad Lonely Troubled Confused Loving Musical Gifted Intelligent Beautiful Tender Sensitive Haunted Passionate Talented Mr. Ripley.

Last night I posted the Best Shot group roundup of The Talented Mr Ripley, but not my own choice. Why? Well every time I began I wanted to start over. If this blogpost were a passport I would have been defacing my own photo. I chose eight shots - at least -- but each one seemed to beg for a wholly different article to accompany it. Which is not to say that the film is any more gorgeously shot than others we've covered in this series (though John Seale easily deserved the best Cinematography nomination he was denied) but that it is several films at once. Which is why I've titled this post with its less condensed but truer title. Those sixteen extra shuffling adjectives in the brilliant title design say it all. 

Light bulb! 

Not actual light bulbs but figurative ones (we'll get to the actual ones in a minute) though actual lights figure into this perfect shot of Marge, backing through a hallway in what would handily be my choice if I thought of this film as only a thriller. This moment is just terrifying, aided immeasurably by a virtuousic turn by Gwyneth Paltrow. [more...]

I have rarely (okay, never) thought of Paltrow as the film's standout but now, 14 years on, her performance is clearly the film's most successful in terms of emotional range and effortlessness. Marge moves rapidly through numerous shades of fear and defiance and remorse in this one sequence and Gwyneth does that while walking backwards and never once giving off the feeling of "Acting". It's a weirdly authentic photorealistic portrait of that intangible moment when clouds of confusion part and a sick-making truth is undeniably visible. 

Tom tries not to look. Dickie snaps his towel to punish him for not not-looking.

Deviant!
When I first saw The Talented Mr Ripley in 1999 I was discomfited by its Killer Homosexual narrative. That showbiz trope was born in homophobia but has had so many variations and so much meta commentary and so many riffs by non-homophobic artists over the decades (not to mention producing so many indelible film characters) that its almost been turned completely on its head at this point (like watching "Queer" move from put-down to point-of-pride). One shouldn't take offense quite so instantaneously, though Tom Ripley is of course the bad kind of queer - closeted, self-loathing, and sociopathic even if he's all of those less damning adjectives in the title, too. 

Spooky"

This finger wagging twoshot of Ripley (Matt Damon) and Dickie (Oscar-Worthy Jude Law) is one of two choices I'm making for Best Shot -- I'm cheating since the film so loves doubling. It'd be my choice whether I was writing about "The Gay Shame of The Talented Mr Ripley" or even about its class warfare... since you can essentially replace 'Gay and Straight' with 'Have Not and Have' in the narrative and Tom's "Otherness" is still impossible to deny and at the heart of the all the tension.

In this shot, Dickie has caught Tom staring at him again. He calls him "spooky" and smiles with a finger-wag. This non-playful but purposeful sexual shaming is paired deliciously by Walter Murch in the editing with playful cymbal music which transitions to a music performance. [Related tangent: I cannot recommend the book on The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film highly enough.] Marge, who is far less cruel but ultimately also classist, will later dismiss Tom's economic Otherness with a snappish hand gesture later in the movie his newfound "to the manor born" pretense. And Freddy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) will arguably combine both dismissals of Tom's Otherness -- Queer and Poor --  with limp wrist taunting in a deadly scene beside Tom's piano. 

I had to have this moment on the train because it reminds me of so many other moments in the film, including its deadlier ones (note how they're rocking gently on the train as if on a boat -- water always seems to accompany murder in this movie) and also because it features the two most important players. And yet... I have one more.

So... the light bulb realization.

should have just succumbed to the movies confused identity and selected 17 different best shots, one to aptly explore each titular adjective. I wish I had. But my time with this movie is up. Tick-tock. It's a daringly ambitious movie all told (hardly a stuffy member of the overstuffed Oscar Bait Prestige subgenre) and threatens to go off the rails at numerous points in its journey. There are moments when it feels too on-the-nose effortful, tonally questionable or credulity-straining in its plot twisting. But Ripley is better for its lack of perfection I think. It it goes of the rails it's at least track-adjacent on its bumpy journey and remains a gripping and fascinating curiousity all the way from that schizo title card right down to the visual negation of its closet-slamming conclusion.

perverse anonymity

Which is why I love and also choose this shot, which comes at the movie's center. This moment is just after the irrevocable act from which Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf will never recover and from which the film will become a different and more baroque film altogether.  I had to have it for its perverse lack of personality in a film about a man who keeps changing his. That could be any actor, in any film with a boat sequence. But where is he going? why is he alone? what is he doing? why is he standing (which you shouldn't do in row boats).

And why why why?

This shot out of context, like its titular character, raises all kinds of questions but remains wholly anonymous. Not unlike the Slippery Mr Ripley himself. 

Click here for more of Ripley's best shots from 17 other great blogs 
As always I can't wait to read all these articles! Join me in doing so 

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Reader Comments (44)

I said earlier that I considered PSH to give the best performance in this movie, but it is so unfair because everybody is great. That's we call a true great ensemble. Gwyneth Paltrow is such an underrated actress!

I like this movie a lot, but I wish it knew how to end. More than 10 years later I still feel bad about the fact that there is still some people alive that think Ripley is Greenleaf, and in this little world of rich people, Ripley can be caught again easily. Killing Peter was never a solution. People always complain this movie is not faithful to Higsmith's book, but it is in the way it captures the tormented spirit and the intelligence of Ripley. That ending betrays that.

Still, it's a much better movie than the very cold Plein Soleil, in spite the fact that nobody could ever beat Alain Delon as Ripley - but maybe Delon coulda been an even greater Dickie.

I haven't seen the movie again, but my favorite shot was always going to be that Jude Law face in the bathtub. What a great performance, too!

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

man, the 1999 oscars got so many things wrong...about the only winner i agree with that year can't be named around these parts

love the goop in this - her "i know it was you" is my favourite moment of her filmography

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

par -- yeah, that scene is just a master class of lived-in acting. pity that Gwynnie didn't care about the craft as much as other things. I also love the pitiful "i wasn't snooping"

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

i've always loved gwyneth in the leopard coat

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjon

1999- One of the great years in American cinema and you would have no idea that was the case with the Academy Awards.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

jon -- i imagine that accounts for the costume design nomination ;)

also -- in regards to Gwyneth and Oscar... i wonder if she would have been nominated for this if she hadn't just won a controversial Oscar? right moment in her career obviously. Though maybe this performance feels too effortless. has there ever bene a year where Supporting Actress was that crazy with statue-worthy performances though. The nominees are great and there are a ton of other women just as worthy

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

i wonder if the film might've been nominated for more oscars if elaine benes didn't start that backlash against the english patient..?

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

I think if this was today, Gwyneth probably would've at least gotten a courtesy nomination for this, but this is a performance that has taken time to catch on. When I first saw the movie, I wasn't paying attention to her because I was wrapped up with Jude and Matt, but now I feel she quietly steals the show. You mentioned that "To the manner born" line and she also does a little pose that I just love. She was very in-sync with this character.

One thing though, are we supposed to believe or think that Dickie may have been Bi or did he just love the attention Tom gave him?

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Bia -- i dont read Dickie as bi at all. I think he's just a classic narcissist and therefore soaks up the attention people pay him, but doesn't "need" it from anyone in particular since it's never lacking and he's so willing to deny them the time of day when he grows bored with them.

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Like i said the 1999 best supp actress perforamnce,yet it was tacked but this role always makes me love gwynnie,i love the line "why do you have dickies rings" sends chills down me as it's coming clearer who this person is and what he did.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

I loved Paltrow since the first time I saw her in a movie (Great Expectations), and ever since she was one of my favorite actresses. I remember talking to my friend about her like 12 years ago, and she hated Gwyneth even though she never saw her in a movie. Few months later she called me to tell me that she saw The Talented Mr Ripley and that Gwyneth was truly great in that movie. So, I guess those haters who say she can't act have prejudice based on what they read in lifestyle magazines and blogs and had never seen her in a movie.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrace

Here is that scene,enjoy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KstSfW1IAA

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

@Nathaniel: Do you still love Cate Blanchett's performance?

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

I definitely think everyone in the cast is aces...

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFernando Moss

Great comments on the boat image, Nathaniel.

I just watched Gatsby and I wish it had been able to combine handsomness with being a good movie (though I thought it was OK) like Mr Ripley did.

And, yes, Gwyneth was great. I never heard/read a single thing about Damon's performance and I don't really have anything to say myself but it's weird because it's a hard role and at no point did I feel he wasn't nailing it. Then why am I not in awe of that performance? Anyway. I like the perf and I love the film.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Are you me? Same exact case.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

BVR -- yes, but she's in so little of the movie! In my head I had elevated her status.

James -- thanks. agreed on Damon. I do think he oversells a few moments. Incredibly difficult character which he does a good but I don't quite think "great" job at. but Jude & Gwyneth are Oscar nom or win worthy and Cate is divine in basically her cameo.

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I meant same exact case as this

I loved Paltrow since the first time I saw her in a movie (Great Expectations), and ever since she was one of my favorite actresses.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

This is the only performance I really enjoyed from Paltrow. And Law,
pure sublime.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Looking through the visual index, i never realized how many shots there were with mirrors and reflections. Good stuff. I've never really noticed the reflection of Dickie in the mirror when Tom is dancing around in his clothes because i'm usually too busy cringing from secondhand embarrassment.

I love Cate Blanchett in this movie. So sweet and unassuming yet ALWAYS popping up at the wrong time for Tom. Gywneth's great too, especially in the second half. You really feel for her. For both of them, actually.

I'm still pretty undecided on Tom's sexuality in the movie (in my article, i mention that i would possibly go with "bisexual opportunist"), but Tom seems more fluid than any particular label. I never got bi from Dickie though. He just likes to screw with Tom. Especially in the bathtub scene where he just seems to be flaunting and taunting. I love his unreadable face after Tom makes the suggestion to hop in the tub though.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

I'm actually impressed Law got a nomination for this. No big Oscar bait-y scenes, no crying or breakdowns or physical tics or anything, and he makes it look pretty effortless which I think always confuses Oscar voters into actually thinking effort wasn't required.

I actually love Damon in this and was hoping he'd get nominated. Such a tricky part and dare I say that he actually somehow makes the character endearing in some tragic way while not at all pandering for likability?

And I JUST realized that I've always had some kind of negative taste for PSH and I never knew why because I have to admit he's talented. I think it's because this was one of the first films I saw him in and he so nailed this snobby, condescending, privileged dickhead that I constantly, unconsciously associate those qualities with him all the time.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

PSH N-A-I-L-E-D this role.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

@ DJDeeJay - I feel so close to you right now. That was EXACTLY how i felt a couple years ago until i managed to trace my irrational hatred for PSH back to this film. I hated (well, i still do) Freddie Miles SO. MUCH. that there were flames--flames!--on the side of my face. PSH did such a great job that my hatred of that character sort of rubbed off on him. It didn't help that PSH has played a great deal of other odious characters throughout the years.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

@Derrek - that's hilarious. Unreasonable distaste for PSH based on this movie AND a Clue reference in one comment? Closeness reciprocated, sir.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

This film is one about which my initial opinion, which was less than favorable, totally reversed upon repeat viewings and further thought. Having read the novel after seeing the adaptation I always wanted to know what prompted Anthony Minghella to make some of the narrative and character changes he did from page to screen.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Love your shout-out to The Conversations. I'm reading it now and it's left me pretty much speechless as a result. Really great piece and great picks! I completely agree with Marge. I think Paltrow adds a rare nuance to that role that few others could have, and her arc is beautifully rendered. The book sees her as Tom sees her, so in the source material she is a nuisance; someone who is in the way. The film fleshes her out nicely, while staying loyal to Tom's perspective. It's a severely underrated performance. I get something new out of it every time.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Nice shot, Nathaniel.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAntonio

My Sup. Actress line-up for '99:

Helena Bonham-Carter, Fight Club
Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense
Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut
Julianne Moore, Magnolia
Gwyneth Paltrow, The Talented Mr. Ripley

All worthy winners. Great year.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

re: Paltrow

You know, I don't think she would've been in contention regardless. For all the controversy about her win, given that AMPAS also gave SiL the best picture victory as well I think they were fine with it (as they always are). Entertainment Weekly never even listed her as a contender.

The critics raved about Law, really enjoyed Damon, and everyone else was viewed as lesser. That Law made it in during a truly bizarre race (Christopher Plummer and John Malkovich were epic snubs) signified that to me.

Amazing movie. Should've been nominated a LOT more than it was (I think I had it at 12 nominations)

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

arkaan -- i still scratch my head a smidge at the Plummer snub though the Malkovich one was expected (if ridiculous) but hte Supporting categories in 99 were ridiculously competitive.

99 supporting actress was INSANE. I remember all of these performances having their partisans:

helena - fight club
gwyneth - ripley
jolie - girl int.
collette -6th sense
mann - topsy turvy
diaz -malkovich
keener -malkovich
moore -magnolia
sevigny - boysdontcry
morton -sweet and lowdown
anyone - all about my mother
spacek -straight story
lange - titus
kahn -judy berlin

...and i'm sure i'm forgetting someon

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Cameron Diaz (Being John Malkovich), Helena Bonham Carter and Gwyneth Paltrow (The Talented Mr. Ripley) were HEARTBREAKING snubs for me in '99. Even though Collette, Sevigny and Morton were great I prefer the three "snubbed" women (with an honorable mention going out to Julianne Moore in Magnolia). Nathaniel were you a fan of Diaz in Malkovich? Since this totally isn't off-topic (LOL!), what are your thoughts on Diaz as an actress? I always forget that she's BFF's with Paltrow. Can't wait to see her Malkina in The Counselor...

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDamian

I am loving the nice comments about Gwyneth. So nice to be in the same room with ya'll...!
'Cause out in the real world people throw shit after you if you admit to liking her, and I mean actual shit, phesies...sometimes soda cans, other times books, like The Great Expectations, The Bell Jar, Possession, Shakespeare's greatest hits - are they trying make a point, do you think?

no, but seriously I love Gwyneth Paltrow as an actor and I'm not affraid to admit it!...Actually, I'm terrified! but you'll protect me right?

I even love that shitty movie HUSH because she' in it...have you guys seen that? Jessica Lange plays a psycho mother-in-law to Gwyneth- boy do I love it...it was on the shelf for two years before it got released directly to video. Proud owner of both the video (vhs) and dvd.

Another shitty movie that's watchable because of her...The Pallbearer with Ross from Friends...So bad it's...bad. But she's cute, sweet, adorable, in it.
Matt Reeves' first movie.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Ulrich, fear not. I even enjoy her in View from the Top, which also stars another fave of my Christina Applegate.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

This has always been one of my favorite Paltrow performances. So simple and specific.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I assume a significant part of Gwyneth's snub that year is because of category confusion. Many will say supporting but she's a major part of the second act. I think she could easily go both ways. So glad you're doing a retrospective of this great film. I think it's terribly underrated and thought many had forgotten about it!

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I think it's very much a supporting role. She never leads the story, it is never about her, we only see her from Tom's perspective, not even a co-lead.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Thank you SO MUCH for reminding people about this terrific movie - by far the one I have watched the most.

For those of you who are revisiting it, I highly recommend Anthony Minghella's commentary on the DVD. I love how he talks about GP, and the costume choices that were made for her. He also talks about the great Cate. Cameo or not, Nathaniel, she was great in this part. You don't see her often, but you understand Meredith Logue completely because of how she so richly embodies the character.

Thanks again for highlighting one of my favorites!

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

Is it on the commentary where Minghella talks about Marge 'starting off as a ray of sunshine and, as the film develops, all light draining from her until only an ice queen remains'?

I love her in this film - the only thing that doesn't fill me with joy is Damon. As already mentioned, he does nothing specifically WRONG, it's just that I'm sure there were better actors for the part... because of his physique he never becomes Ripley, while unfortunately for him every other cast member does so with their character...

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKermit The Frog

a few more for 99

melinda dillon - magnolia
suvari or birch - american beauty
any of the moms in drop dead gorgeous
janette arnetta - boys dont cry

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

@Kermit I think it is! What I remember most is him talking about how when we first meet Margot, she's wearing next to nothing (just that bikini) and by the end, she's in a lot of layers. It was interesting to hear him talk about it all.

If this movie came out now, they'd be a lock for the Best Ensemble SAG Award. 1999 was such a strong year!

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

"any of the moms in drop dead gorgeous" = priceless (and true)

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I recently re-watched Plein Soleil (the older French version of Ripley) and am bemused that both movie versions end with (spoiler) Ripley being caught. In the books he gets away with it and is happy and successful for another 4 books. I guess Patricia Highsmith, the novelist, was the transgressive one. No wonder she had to move away from Texas and live in France.

It makes me wonder if one of the last and strongest taboos in American films is against mentioning class conflict, class warfare. Replacing class conflict with sexual conflict is okay though.

The French, having had a revolution where they gutted a rich over class, are more sanguine about class conflict. The French Greenleaf is a bullying pig who deserves to die. Alain Delon's Ripley has such a delicate beauty that you hate it when Greenleaf is cruel to him. Ripley's belief, that with his good taste, intelligence, and good looks, Ripley would do much better with the opportunities of Dickie's life, seems absolutely correct.

But Damon/Ripley is a gauche poseur who can never equal the golden boy ease of a Law/Dickie. It's like a pre-French Revolutionary version of the aristocracy. Their blood makes them better and they will ever remain an entitled caste apart. The French Greenleaf is a useless swine, who victimizes not only the lower classes, but also rich women. Poor Marge is sweeter and kinder, but her attempts at professional work are sneered at and destroyed.

Tom Ripley isn't really conflicted. It's clear to him that not only does he have the skills and aptitudes to be better at living a privileged life, he also has an appreciation and gratitude for its privileges, which ungrateful swine like Dickie doesn't. In the American version, it seems to make the insistent point that the poor can never replace the rich. And must be punished for trying to do so.

Although yes, Ripley is what, a sociopath? There's no qualms of conscience there. I loved the creepy edge Delon gave the character.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteradri

@adri - thanks for that comparison between the two films. Having only seen the American version, it's fascinating to hear about the differences.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

My response to the Killer Homosexual trope in this was just the opposite of yours, Nathaniel. Every movie I'd seen with a gay character in it to that point, the whole storyline about that character was that he a) died b) got AIDS c) died of AIDS or d) had to Grapple With His Sexuality. This is still largely the case for gay characters, but much more so 13+ years back. So I was THRILLED that here was a strong take-no-bullshit gay (or from this post's chatter, gay-ish) character, one who didn't have to be punished just for being the way he was (like most other gay characters to that point).

Plus I think the Killer Homosexual trope used here was different than that used in older films. Older films had it as "gay = evil" end of story. This had Ripley as gay and evil, but as separate characteristics -- the gayness wasn't the root of the evil. His unquenchable thirst was.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames

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