The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Music Video, Theatrical Trailers

When I was young I have always been intrigued by murder mystery stories and I went through Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace novels three books a week. Patricia Highsmith has also always been a well-respected writer in the genre and it is actually surprising how little of her encompassing body of work has made it to film. Paramount Home Video’s latest release, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is based on one such story, a thriller that is full of mystery, murders and unexpected surprises, set in front of a beautiful Mediterranean background in the 50s.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a poor young man who earns his living as a bathroom clerk and makes some money on the side, playing classical piano for upper-crust social events. During one such occasion he is mistaken for a Princeton graduate, because he has borrowed a jacket that has the Princeton logo embroidered from a friend. Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn), a shipyard owner, tells Tom about his own son, Dickie, another Princeton graduate. But he also voices his concern about his son and his escaping to Italy, where he lives the sunny life, spending all of his father’s money. Greenleaf asks Tom if he would travel to Italy for him, find his son and convince him to return home to the US to take over the business.

With a $1000 reward attached to it, Tom agrees and travels to Italy. He makes himself familiar with Dickie’s habits and preferences and soon finds him in an idyllic small town where he is spending his time with his girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). He begins to socialize with Dickie (Jude Law) and soon, as the two become friends, Tom is even invited to live in Dickie’s own palazzo. Tom’s rich friend even goes as far as letting Tom enjoy the riches and the exuberant lifestyle he is leading and all too soon, Tom comes to a point where he forgets his mission. Living the easy life in Italy, spicing up his own back story with a few well-placed lies, Tom eventually doesn’t want to return to the US either. But living on borrowed money is not the ultimate answer to life. As Dickie become increasingly bored in his new friend and eventually pushes him away, in accident, Dickie is killed. Suddenly Tom realizes how volatile his newfound lifestyle is, and decides to take on the identity of Dickie instead. But wherever he goes, he has to cover up his tracks and his past, and more importantly, he suddenly has to juggle two very different identities.

In grandiose images, director Anthony Minghella tells the story of Tom Ripley and his spiraling life of lies. Perfectly capturing the romantic settings of the Mediterranean, the film makes it easy for everyone to see why Tom would never want to leave this paradise, so far removed from his own, rather desolate life in New York.

But apart from the scenic backdrops, the film’s cast is ultimately responsible to give the film depth and impact. Matt Damon breathes life in the character of Tom Ripley, supplying him with a variety of different shades. From innocent to overwhelmed, from poor to rich, from modest to spoiled, from unassuming to calculating, Damon runs the entire gamut with this character. Most impressively, we accept every one of those aspects of this central figure that Damon manages to weave into this complex character. He is supported by great supporting cast the features Gwyneth Paltrow showing us her usual radiant and charming play, Cate Blanchet and most importantly Judd Law, as Dickie Greenleaf, who seems to be hand-picked for the part. Smart, pretentious, charming and handsome, Law embodies everything his character needs to have in order to become the lethal temptation for Ripley that he is.

As expected, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" turns out beautifully on this DVD from Paramount Home Video. Presented in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets, the source print used for this transfer is devoid of defects or blemishes, creating a picture that is sharply defined and absolutely clear and stable. The colors in the film are vibrant and powerful, yet absolutely naturally rendered, adding to the idyllic look of the scenery the film moves in. Blacks are very deep and solid, devoid of any artifacts and always maintaining a very good level of detail. No edge-enhancement has been applied to the transfer, and the result is a noticeably film-like, very consistent look of the presentation. The compression is without problems and no signs of artifacting, such as <$pixelation,pixelation> or dot crawl can be found anywhere on the DVD.

The DVD contains an impressive <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix that creates an engaging sound field for the movie. Expansive and dynamic, the mix has a very good bass extension and a very energetic sound quality. I found the dialogues a little harsh in the mix, but other than that, the audio is well-balanced and natural sounding. Dialogues are always understandable and well integrated in the overall mix.
The movie is embellished by a very attractive jazzy soundtrack that nicely captures the flair of the 50s, and the movies from that particular period. The mix is great, making good use of the surround channels to create a wide sound filed that is very engaging.

In the great tradition of classic murder mysteries, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is a sumptuous surprise hit that has a very different note than most thrillers of this day and age. With beautiful locations, a superb cast and a thrilling story line that keeps viewers always on the edge, we follow the events unfold, always waiting for the inevitable to happen. Director Minghella manages perfectly to raise viewers’ expectations and to string along the audience while the devious plot unfolds and the implications become more and more incriminating. The film is a nice change of pace from many contemporary releases and I found myself utterly intrigued by this gorgeous movie and the way it is told. Mr Ripley may be talented, but so is Paramount Home Video, the studio that has created a beautiful incarnation of this movie on DVD to enjoy in your own home.