The Talented Mr. Ripley

USA 1999

Reviewed by Charlotte O'Sullivan


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

New York, 1958. As a result of a misunderstanding, Tom Ripley is hired by wealthy American magnate Mr Greenleaf to rescue his son Dickie from a dissolute life in Italy. On the way, Tom meets heiress Meredith Logue and tells her he's Dickie Greenleaf. In Italy, Tom befriends Dickie, who's involved both with Marge, an American writer, and local girl Silvana. Tom and Dickie take trips together and Tom's semi-sexual attraction for Dickie grows. Silvana, pregnant by Dickie, drowns herself. Suddenly bored with Tom, Dickie begins to exclude him. During a motorboat ride, Tom and Dickie argue; he kills Dickie and hides the corpse.

Tom tells Marge Dickie decided to move to Rome. There, Tom assumes Dickie's identity. Problems arise when Dickie's old friend Freddie Miles pays a call. Tom kills Freddie. The police become suspicious, but Tom is saved when a new policeman is assigned to the case. Marge and Dickie's father arrive in town, the latter bringing with him a private detective. Tom bumps into Meredith in Rome. He juggles his two identities but when Marge finds Dickie's rings she's convinced of Tom's guilt. The private detective uncovers Silvana's suicide. Dickie's father, disappointed by his son's bad character, gives up the search. Tom has by now fallen in love with Peter, a friend of Marge's, and they go on a voyage back to the US, only for Tom to discover Meredith aboard. Tom kills Peter.


The Talented Mr. Ripley, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 thriller, is a film about the look that cannot speak its name. At one point, the eponymous Ripley sits on a rocking train, gazing at the object of his sexual and economic desire, Dickie Greenleaf. Suddenly, he (and we) realise Dickie knows he's being watched. Director Anthony Minghella keeps the camera fixed on the two men for just that little bit too long, a brilliant move which allows Tom's ambivalent adoration to float queasily before us, while Dickie decides how to react. He finally settles on contempt and (peeping) Tom's body seems to contract with shame. Like that otherworldly moment in Persona where wannabe "double" Liv Ullmann steps on to a shard of glass, Tom's expulsion into the land of the single makes us wince.

There are many such episodes in this film. A tense, troubling thriller, marred only by problems of pacing (the middle section drags) and some implausible characterisation (Meredith's obsession with Ripley never convinces), it's full of vivid, miserable life. Philip Seymour Hoffman, for example, burns a hole in the memory as the viciously astute Freddie.

But is this film "dangerous", as has been suggested by the US press? Minghella has obviously adapted freely from the novel, and has been credited with taking more risks, not less. Something has happened, for instance, to the novel's take on class. In the book, the social gap between Tom and Dickie is not as wide as in the film, where Tom is a one-time janitor. Highsmith's Tom is also the more culturally worldly of the two - it's Dickie who's the conventional one. In Minghella's version, the roles are reversed: Tom plays nerdish pauper to Dickie's machiavellian la dolce vita prince. Minghella presumably intended to make Tom more sympathetic. He has, but in doing so he's also made him less interesting and drained him of his mercurial power. Instead of identifying with Tom, we feel sorry for him. By the same token, instead of feeling sorry for Dickie, we're intrigued. He, along with girlfriend Marge (no longer a stodgy Ohio bumpkin but a cut-glass golden girl), now represents a new, enticing moral order.

Dickie and Marge break rules, Dickie with his casual, catastrophic affairs, his "half-killing" of a boy at school, Marge with her gay friend Peter (in the book, all are horrified by "queers"). The couple are also bright as buttons. Where Highsmith's Dickie is pitifully limited when it comes to aperçu (Tom waits in vain for "something profound and original from Dickie"), Minghella's charismatic cad manages to impress constantly (he likens his privileged friends to cream, because they're "rich and thick"). Similarly, while Highsmith pokes fun at Dickie's mediocre paintings, Minghella allows the young man's musical ability to charm not only Tom but a crowded room of Italians (the camera, swirling round the room, infects us with the appreciative mood). As for Marge, in the book she remains duped to the end. Here, she's the only one to realise Tom's a murderer. Thus, as in The English Patient, Minghella gets to portray certain aristocrats not only as supremely glamorous but also ahead of their time. Their remoteness, even cruelty, just makes them more attractive. Like Almásy and Katharine, Dickie and Marge are extraordinary, objects of sexual and economic desire perfectly formed to suit middlebrow tastes.

Minghella's other "radical" break with Highsmith's text involves sexuality, introducing a full-blown homosexual affair into the story, which Minghella has predicted will "alienate Middle America". `But Ripley does not "get away" with his sexual/moral deviation. A prisoner of his own device, he ends up a psychologically doomed man. In an afterword to The Price of Salt,aka Carol, the 'lesbian novel' Highsmith wrote she talks about the typical fate of homosexuals in fiction: "punished for their deviation, they've slashed their wrists or collapsed alone into a depression equal to hell." Minghella's Tom conforms utterly to this description. By combining sex with an unhappy ending and a contrite beginning ("If I could just go back..." intones Tom) Minghella more than satisfies mainstream requirements.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is worth more than a peep. It's only in comparison with Highsmith's book that its conservatism becomes clear. Minghella cautions that envy won't get us anywhere, even as he makes us giddy with covetous lust for the aristocratic élite. Highsmith teaches that envy gets you everywhere, even as she reminds us how unenviable the rich truly are. What a shame this lesson is available to the reader's eyes only.


Anthony Minghella
William Horberg
Tom Sternberg
Anthony Minghella
Based on the novel by
Patricia Highsmith
Director of Photography
John Seale
Walter Murch
Production Designer
Roy Walker
Gabriel Yared
©Paramount Pictures Corporation/Miramax Films Corp.
Production Companies
Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films present a Mirage Enterprises/Timnick Films production
Executive Producer
Sydney Pollack
Paul Zaentz
New York Unit:
Lydia Dean Pilcher
Line Producer
Allessandro Von Normann
Associate Producer
Steve Andrews
Production Co-ordinators
Daniela Vecchi
Simona Sciannimanico
New York Unit:
Michele Giordano
Set Co-ordinator
Cristina De Rossi
Unit Production Managers
Lynn Kamern
New York Unit:
Jan Foster
Location Managers
Antonio Gabrielli
Francesco Rapa
Rita Gacioppo
Giorgio Gallani
Rosanna Roditi
New York Unit:
Deb Parker
Post-production Supervisor
Ruth Hasty
Assistant Directors
Steve Andrews
Emma Schofield
Gianni Arduini
Andrea Marrari
Maria De Leo
Filippo Fassetta
Federica Ciciarelli
New York Unit:
Vebe Borge
Amy Lynn
Script Supervisor
Dianne Dreyer
David Rubin
Ronna Kress
Shaila Rubin
Sarah Beardsall
Loop Group:
Sondra James
New York Unit Director of Photography
Benoît Delhomme
Camera Operators
John Seale
Daniele Massaccesi
2nd Unit/Aerial:
Roberto De Nigris
Marcello Montarsi
New York Unit:
Phil Oetiker
Steadicam Operator
Roberto De Nigris
Visual Effects Supervisor
Dennis Lowe
Visual Effects
Jim Henson's Creature Shop
Visual Effects:
Val Wardlaw
Nick Drew
Michael Turloff
Visual Effects
Universal Production Partners
Visual Effects Co-ordinators:
Vit Komrzy
Petr Komrzy
Inferno Operators:
David Vana
Viktor Muller
Ales Dlabac
Visual Effects
Golden Square Post Production Ltd
Technical Supervisor:
Daniel Napier
Inferno Artists:
Sam Hencher
Harry Jarman
Digital Scan/Record
Cinesite, London and Los Angeles
Special Effects
Richard Conway
Giancarlo Mancini
Sam Conway
New York Unit Supervisor:
J.C. Brotherhood
Graphic Artist
Miraphora Mina
Computer Animation
Supervising Art Director
John Fenner
Art Directors
Stefano Ortolani
New York Unit:
Rick Butler
Set Decorators
Bruno Cesari
New York Unit:
Carol Nast
Storyboard Artist
Tony Wright
Costume Designers
Ann Roth
Gary Jones
Italy Associate:
Carlo Poggioli
Wardrobe Supervisor
Anne Brault
Wardrobe Master
Alfredo Bocci
Supervising Artists:
Fabrizio Sforza
Tina Earnshaw
Alessandra Sampaolo
New York Unit Key:
Michael Bigger
Special Effects Make-up
Fabrizio Sforza
Supervising Hairstylist
Kay Georgiou
Hair Designer
Paolo Mantini
Giorgio Gregorini
Elisabetta De Leonardis
New York Unit Key Hair
Peg Schierholz
Title Design
Deborah Ross Film Design
End Title Composite
Pacific Title/Mirage
Soprano Sax Solos
Tommy Smith
Napoli Jazz Club Musicians
Double Bass:
Geoff Gascoyne
'Dickie's' Alto Sax:
Jamie Talbot
Tenor Sax:
Alan Barnes
Electric Guitar:
Paul Keogh
San Remo Jazz Festival Musicians
Guy Barker
Tenor Sax:
Iain Dixon
Robin Aspland
Double Bass:
Arne Somogyi
Metro Voices
Music Programmers
Kirsty Whalley
Allan Jenkins
Orchestra Conductor
Harry Rabinowitz
Orchestra Leaders
Marcia Crayford
Paul Willey
Gabriel Yared
John Bell
Music Supervisor
Graham Walker
Score Producers
Gabriel Yared
Anthony Minghella
Walter Murch
Music Production Co-ordinator
Liz Schrek
Music Editor
Robert Randles
Score Recorder/Mixer
John Richards
Source Music Recorder/Re-mixer
Chris Dibble
"Lullaby for Cain" by Gabriel Yared, Anthony Minghella, performed by (1) Sinéad O'Connor, (2) Mary Ann McCormick & Toni Manoli; "Piano Quartet in E-flat Major Opus 16 Second Movement" by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax; "The Champ" by/performed by Dizzy Gillespie; "Ko-Ko" by/performed by Charlie Parker; "Mongibello" by/performed by The Mancuso Brothers; "Moanin'" by Bobby Timmons, performed by The Guy Barker International Quintet; "My Funny Valentine" by Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, performed by (1) Matt Damon & The Guy Barker International Quintet, (2) Chet Baker; "Tenor Madness" by/performed by Sonny Rollins; "May I?" by Mack Gordon, Harry Revel, performed by Bing Crosby; "You Don't Know What Love Is" by Don Raye, Gene De Paul, performed by (1) Alan Barnes, (2) John Martyn & The Guy Barker International Quintet; "Four" by Miles Davis, performed by Guy Barker, Pete King, Iain Dixon, Robin Aspland, Arne Somogyi, Clark Tracey; "Stabat Mater, 1st Movement" by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by (1) Gabriel Yared, (2) Clifford Gurdin and The London Metropolitan Ensemble; "Italian Concerto, 1st Movement" by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Sally Heath; "Mache Dich, Mein Herze, rein" from "St. Matthew Passion" by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Munich Bach Orchestra & Karl Richter; "Guaglione" by Nisa, Fanciulli, performed by Marino Marini; "Tu vuò fa l'americano" by Renato Carosone, Nicola Salerno, performed by Matt Damon, Jude Law, Fiorello and The Guy Barker International Quintet; "Nature Boy" by Eden Ahbez, performed by Miles Davis; "Miles and Bird" by Guy Barker, performed by The Guy Barker International Quintet; "Rusariu di la 'mmaculata" by Lorenzo Mancuso, performed by The Mancuso Brothers; "Pent-up House" by Sonny Rollins, performed by Guy Barker, Pete King, Iain Dixon, Robin Aspland, Arne Somogyi, Clark Tracey; "Lenski's Aria" from Act 2 Scene 2 of "Eugene Onegin" by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, performed by Nicolai Gedda, Dimiter Stanchev, Yuri Mazurok and Sofia Festival Orchestra; "Knees up, Mother Brown" by Bert Lee, Harris Weston, performed by Gabriel Yared, David Arch; "We're Called Gondolieri" from "The Gondoliers" by W.S. Gilbert, A.S. Sullivan, performed by Matt Damon, Jack Davenport
Opera Sequence staged by
Carolyn Choa
Sound Mixers
Ivan Sharrock
New York Unit:
Danny Michael
Re-recording Mixers
Walter Murch
Mark Berger
David Parker
Supervising Sound Editor
Pat Jackson
Dialogue Editors
Dianna Stirpe
Barbara McBane
Sound Effects Recording
Dan Gleich
Sound Effects Editors
Kyrsten Mate Comoglio
Jennifer L. Ware
Mark A. Levinson
Richard Quinn
Margie O'Malley
Marnie Moore
Ben Conrad
Malcolm Fife
Boat Co-ordinators
Mike Turk
Ian McDougal
Stunt Co-ordinator
Franco Salamon
Matt Damon
Tom Ripley
Gwyneth Paltrow
Marge Sherwood
Jude Law
Dickie Greenleaf
Cate Blanchett
Meredith Logue
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Freddie Miles
Jack Davenport
Peter Smith-Kingsley
James Rebhorn
Herbert Greenleaf
Sergio Rubini
Inspector Roverini
Philip Baker Hall
Alvin MacCarron
Celia Weston
Aunt Joan
Rosario Fiorello
Stefania Rocca
Ivano Marescotti
Colonnello Verrecchia
Anna Longhi
Signora Buffi
Alessandro Fabrizi
Sergeant Baggio
Lisa Eichhorn
Emily Greenleaf
Gretchen Egolf
Jack Willis
Greenleaf chauffeur
Frederick Alexander Bosche
Fran's boyfriend
Dario Bergesio
police officer
Larry Kaplan
Uncle Ted
Claire Hardwick
Gucci assistant
Nino Prester
American Express clerk
Lorenzo Mancuso
bus driver
Onofrio Mancuso
Massimo Reale
immigration officer
Emanuelle Carucci Viterbi
American Express clerk
Caterina de Regibus
Silvana Bosi
Gianfranco Barra
Aldo, desk manager
Renato Scarpa
Deirdre Lovejoy
Brian Tarantina
fighting neighbours
Napoli Jazz Septet
Guy Barker
Bernardo Sassetti
Perico Sambeat
alto sax
Gene Calderazzo
Joseph Lepore
double bass
Rosario Giuliuni
tenor sax
Eddy Palermo
electric guitar
San Remo Jazz Sextet
Byron Wallen
Pete King
alto sax
Clark Tracey
Jean Toussaint
tenor sax
Geoff Gascogne
Carlo Negroni
Beppe Fiorello
Silvana's fiancé
Marco Quaglia
Silvana's brother
Alessandra Vanzi
Silvana's mother

Marco Rossi
Eugene Onegin players
Roberto Valentini
Francesco Bovino
Stefano Canettieri
Marco Foti
Ludovica Tinghi
Fausto's fiancée
Nicola Pannelli
Dinelli's café waiter
Paolo Calabresi
customs officer
Pietro Ragusa
record store owner
Simone Empler
boy singer
Gianluca Secci
Manuel Ruffini
Pierpaolo Lovino
Roberto Di Palma
San Remo hotel desk clerk
Buena Vista International (UK)
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tbc minutes
Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound
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Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011