How far would you go to become someone else.
"I feel like I've been handed a new life," says Tom Ripley at a crucial turning point of this well-cast, stylishly crafted psychological thriller. And indeed he has, because the devious, impoverished Ripley (played with subtle depth by Matt Damon) has just traded his own identity for that of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), the playboy heir to a shipping fortune who has become Ripley's model for a life worth living. Having been sent by Dickie's father to retrieve the errant son from Italy, Ripley has smoothly ingratiated himself with Dickey and his lovely, unsuspecting fiancée, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). In due course, the sheer evil of Ripley's amoral scheme will be revealed.
Superbly adapted from the acclaimed novel by Patricia Highsmith (also the basis of the acclaimed French version, Purple Noon), The Talented Mr. Ripley is writer-director Anthony Minghella's impressive follow-up to his Oscar-winning triumph The English Patient. Re-creating late-1950s Italy in exacting detail, the film captures the sensuousness of la dolce vita while suspensefully developing the fracturing of Ripley's mind as his crimes grow increasingly desperate. And where Hitchcock was necessarily discreet with the homosexual subtext of Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, Minghella brings it out of the closet, increasing the dramatic tension and complexity of Ripley's psychological breakdown. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett are excellent in pivotal supporting roles, and the film's final image is utterly effective: Ripley's talents have gone too far, and this study of class distinction, obsession, and deadly desire reaches a disturbing yet richly appropriate conclusion. --Jeff Shannon