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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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