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[whitespace] Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law
Chameleon Culture: Matt Damon (right) plays a young American who infiltrates the lives of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law in Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel.

Italian Masquerade

Matt Damon gives chilling performance in 'Mr. Ripley'

By Nicole McEwan

HOW RARELY is a happy film shot in Venice? Despite the city's unearthly beauty, near-angelic light and architectural bounty, directors seem drawn to its sinister side, seeking the shadows rather than the sun. Luchino Visconti's mournful Death in Venice, Nicolas Roeg's ominous Don't Look Now and Paul Schrader's creepy The Comfort of Strangers all featured gloriously subversive narratives set in a Venice fraught with obsession, longing and death. Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley (based on Patricia Highsmith's novel, which first made it to the screen as Purple Noon in 1960) stays this cursed course with similarly disturbing results. A Hitchcockian thriller to the core, this seductive, incandescent film is so dressed up with beautiful people, idyllic panoramas and sumptuous environments that you long to step into the frame, to drink it in like some sweet nectar and die from the bliss of it all. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a poor boy running a rich man's errand, gets a taste and gets hooked.

Somewhere between Jay Gatsby and Mr. Hyde, Tom is an enigma, a rootless chameleon with a talent for mimicry, forgery and evasion. One minute, he's a washroom attendant in a fancy supper club, tickling the ivories now and then; the next, he's mistaken for a Princeton alum and embraced by the father of one of his "peers." So what does he do with this golden opportunity? He runs with it--all the way to Italy on a handsomely paid, absurdly fortuitous mission to locate playboy-wastrel Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and remake him as a prodigal son. Once abroad, the quick study insinuates himself into La Dolce Vita, falls for his bronzed Adonis prey, charms Dickie's gorgeous fiancée (Gwyneth Paltrow) and goes to extraordinarily devious means to maintain his place in the sun.

It's a refreshing though flawed departure for Minghella (who directed The English Patient). Epic, and perhaps a trifle too grand, the film's sensual pacing weighs it down. Then again, what director could resist Italy's picture-postcard allure? Furthermore, Minghella's fascination with the magically ephemeral Ripley wears a little thin; the last hour grows redundant. Still, the performances rarely waver. Sex seems to run through Law's veins like a river--his Dickie is narcissism defined. Paltrow injects some fire into a ravishing paperdoll role, but really, it's Damon's picture. His chilling, detached performance is consistently unnerving. Playing a guy who "always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody" with such measured psychotic allure should take the Damon to Oscar nomination-ville come March. As for Minghella--looks like he'll be sitting this one out.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (R; 140 min.), directed and written by Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, photographed by John Seale and starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, opens Saturday (Dec. 25) at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the December 23-29, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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