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Episode 158 - The Talented Mr. Ripley (w/ Tom Bissell)

Episode 158 - The Talented Mr. Ripley (w/ Tom Bissell)  

30 members have voted

  1. 1. Should "The Talented Mr. Ripley" enter The Canon?

    • Yes
      16
    • No
      14


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This week, writer Tom Bissell (The Disaster Artist) joins Amy to discuss the 1999 film “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Tom discusses his personal connection to the film as the ostensible inspiration for Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” before they dive into a conversation about its focus on male friendship and attraction, issues of class, and the layered performance of a young Matt Damon.

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Not over Purple Noon*, you heretics.

 

*Which was not even mentioned! For shame.

  • Like 2

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I have a bit of a soft spot for this movie. At 17 years of age, I too was very impressed with it upon its theatrical release, having not yet seen PURPLE NOON, which I believe to be superior though I don't find its remake sacrilegious. I think Anthony Minghella was a talented director who made imperfect and sometimes overpraised films. I wouldn't have chosen THE ENGLISH PATIENT as the Best Picture of 1996, but I still find much of it to be cinematically stunning. Likewise in RIPLEY, I think Minghella filmed Italy with a romantic eye, with designs to lure future expatriates there to search for a Europe that doesn't entirely exist anymore. The film also serves as a nostalgic memory for the exciting new arrivals of its stars. I don't get giddy with excitement over every new Damon, Law, or Paltrow performance today, but at the time of its release, the relatively recent introduction to a new generation of young stars was something worth noticing and even celebrating. The film's time capsule quality for these vintage performances from Law, Hoffman, and Blanchett is reason enough to hold it in some high regard. But as a Highsmith adaptation, it does leave a little something to be desired. While I get Minghella's intent of showing Ripley as a blank slate who adapts and morphs his personality, he robs the character of much of his cunning and malice, mostly depicting him covering his tracks in an effort for survival, rather than any wants or desires. It's a very different Ripley than we see him some of Highsmith's novels and other adaptations such as PURPLE NOON, RIPLEY'S GAME, or THE AMERICAN FRIEND. I think these multiple interpretations can co-exist but if we are looking to let in a thriller based on the idea that Highsmith needs some representation, I don't think that this is the best we can do. And I truly can't allow it into The Canon based on the factoid that this served as some inspiration for THE ROOM. True or not, THE ROOM's Canon acceptance was its own reward, and we don't need to delve deeper into its mythos and origins to provide more context for its inclusion. I was happy to watch THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY again and revisit some late 90's formative film memories, but I think its place as a diverting curio of the era is fine where it is and we don't need to label it essential. A respectful No vote for me.

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The first thing that struck me about this movie was how nice it was to see some beautiful cinematography that didn't seem to have been color-corrected to within an inch of its life. No teal and orange nonsense here! It looks like the real world, just nicer!

 

I like this movie a good deal, and honestly I'm not too convinced by the argument that the visual motifs and signifiers are "too obvious" -- that kind of argument inevitably sounds a bit snobbish to me (especially when levied against a movie like this that is trying to expose the evil shallowness of a snobbish upper-class lifestyle). Are some of Minghella's visuals obvious? Yes, but I don't think they are inappropriate. They're showing you things the script doesn't directly state outright.

 

Though I do agree that this film takes an inevitable dip after Jude Law's character exits the story, it never loses my interest. The young actors are all great in it. Like Johnny Pomatto, however, I'm also going to vote a respectful "no" for Canon status. I'm not sure where it's proven itself an essential watch. The Talented Mr. Ripley is a classy, well-made thriller that effectively calls back to Hitchcock and classic Italian films. Maybe we should induct one of those films instead.

  • Like 3

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I'm a big fan of this. When discussing the fact that this movie came out in a time when open displays of homosexuality hadn't completely cracked the mainstream, I flashed back to a time in college (when the movie came out) when another person on my dorm floor was warning everyone about the "gay overtones," as if that should be a strong deterrent from seeing it. Of course, considering that we were in a small rural town in Ohio, it probably was quite the deterrent for many.

 

Also, the slow splitting open of Jude Law's face after being hit with the oar remains one of the best special makeup effects I've ever seen.

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Also, on Cate Blanchett:

 

The year before this, she got an Oscar nomination for Elizabeth. She was definitely a known up-and-coming actress when this movie came out (maybe not when it was cast).

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I voted no. It's not the best adaptation of a Ripley book, and I haven't even seen Purple Noon. I found Ripley unpleasant to spend time with (usually not an issue with the less hapless antiheroes on The Americans), which might be one reason why The American Friend works better. Maybe since I was never an ex-pat bumming around some other country I can't relate to any of these people.

 

I found Tom's overture to Meredith completely implausible, but I suppose he could be so addled in the head that he's not fully aware of how phony he's being.

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I haven't seen this since it came out in the theatre and I remember one of my college friends totally hated it. He showed me The American Friend shortly after that and I could understand why, it's a far superior film. Upon revisiting it, the movie is fine. Definitely well acted, but that's about it. I probably won't watch it again for 20 years when I get curious about it because I have forgotten it. Soft no.

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I saw Purple Noon at a retro theater, and I was disappointed. I guess maybe I'd heard too much hype, because that sort of movie is right up my alley.

 

I voted yes, though I agree that it gets slow in the second half.

 

When Ripley was released, I was sure it would duck the homosexual overtones issue, and then I found the movie refreshing. It was talked about on the podcast, but it really did stand out at the time. And as silly as it seemed, Matt Damon seemed a bit brave when he took this role. It was the first time I saw Jude Law, and he made a huge impression. Every single movie I saw him in after that was disappointing though. Damon is flawed but much better than Law. Starting with his memorable role in Courage Under Fire, then his star-making performances, the first two seasons of Project Greenlight, I was along for the ride for a long time. He could redeem himself (with me) if he would quit giving interviews for a while.

 

I've been watching or re-watching everything Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and I hit Ripley a couple of months ago. He was amazing, stole the movie in my opinion, and my heart never stops breaking over our loss.

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I'm voting yes, for completely personal reasons. I got to read the script before the movie was made, and as a huge fan of the book I was excited to do so. But I was taken aback at first by the major changes Minghella made to the story, some of which Tom Bissell mentioned (inventing the characters of Meredith and Peter, making Tom less of an experienced grifter). "You can't DO that!" I thought. But then, when I saw the movie, I realized that Minghella's changes worked spectacularly well, and gave the film a tragic emotional payoff that the book doesn't have. Ever since then, the boldness of Minghella's choices has informed the way I view film adaptations. The question shouldn't be "Is it faithful?" The question to ask is, "Does it work?" (Another example: Adapting Michael Ondaatje's novel "The English Patient," Minghella removed Willem Dafoe's character from the heroine's backstory and reassigned him to the hero's backstory -- a change that even Ondaatje ended up admiring.) And note that Minghella's changes make the story much more overt in considering Tom as (at least) bisexual, at a time when that wasn't anything we would expect in a major film with movie stars. I would be happy to see "The Talented Mr. Ripley" in The Canon.

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Very soft no. Great film, great performances, just not quite canon-level to me.

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I was a yes UNTIL Amy and Tom brought up American Psycho, which I realized is a better movie about class ennui and anxiety from the same time period.

 

That being said I very much enjoyed the chance to rewatch this movie, and I would love to have another movie about the solitude of queer life up for canonship. (Also, more queer representation in general!)

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I'll echo Tom's feelings about how captivating the first half of the film is.

 

However, I'll also echo his feelings that the second half is a bit of a letdown, and ultimately I'll echo the votes of Johnny Pomatto and sycasey 2.0 and say I'm also a respectful no.

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Can someone say what the verdict was? I don’t think Amy announces it officially one way or another on the Caddyshack episode. 

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