The Talented Mr. Ripley **** (out of 5) (1999)

Cast: Matt Damon, Gwynneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Directed by Anthony Minghella

Fittingly enough, this Hitchcockian suspenser was based on a book by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote the book a Hitchcock classic was based on, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Somewhat similar in themes, this one goes much further in describing how an obsession can lead to murder, but the similarities end there, as broader themes which could not be dealt with at the time of the novel's release in 1955 are brought to light today.

The story is set in the 1950s, where a low-class and financially-struggling young man is offered money and expenses to travel to Italy and bring back the son of a wealthy ship builder, who is living it up and refusing to come home. While there, he befriends the richer young man and his fiancee by pretending to be old friends and sharing common interests. Soon, his feelings grow into homosexual love, and Ripley can't handle the inevitable rejection that occurs in the relationship. Circumstances lead Ripley into assuming the identity of the object of his love, but the double life he leads proves a difficult task when the police start snooping around and old friends keep intruding in his life (or lives).

A terrific cast along with stylish direction by Minghella keep the film fresh, and add nifty thematic twists to an otherwise old-fashioned type of suspense yarn. Gorgeous cinematography (which surprisingly wasn't nominated for an Academy Award) and very detailed sets and costumes (which were) all add to the total immersion of ambience required. Unlike many thrillers of recent years, where you don't find out why someone murders until the very end, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY seductively pulls you into the mind of the killer, and at times will wickedly have you hoping he'll get away with it. It may be too slow for some viewers expecting lots of thrills and chills, but THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY is a more of a character study in psychopathology than most of today's thrillers, and in it's own deliberate way quite absorbing for those who are willing to invest some patience. It very well may be the best Hitchcockian thriller since his death, and it captures the essence of the Master while never ripping off his style, proving there's still a lot of life left in the classy thriller genre.

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