Here we are again, gentle readers – another edition of FanboyQ’s DVD reviews. This month I’d like to look at a modern classic that definitely needs some revisiting. It’s hard to believe The Talented Mr. Ripley is already more than a decade old. This is a film that despite its continued popularity in book form among gay audiences I feel was never really embraced by the same said viewers. I have heard the argument that Tom Ripley wasn’t really gay, just a sociopath. I’ve heard the argument that this was just another misuse of the homosexual in cinema, a malicious other-worldly entity invading the happiness of normal ‘straight’ people. And believe me; I understand both arguments but counter with this: The Talented Mr. Ripley must be watched with the same queer eye that has turned films like The Wizard of Oz and Calamity Jane into gay classics.
In the series of novels by bisexual author Patricia Highsmith, Tom Ripley is never out and out outed (hee-hee) but the hints are definitely there in all five books and particularly broad. Director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella uses a similar approach in his 1999 masterpiece, but the expansion of the character of Peter Smith-Kingsley – who is quite openly gay though the word is never word is never used) suggests Ripley is absolutely gay, but closeted due to the time period. The differences between novel and film don’t end there. The book version of Ripley is a villain from the beginning, making a living in
Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley is the quintessential queer boy outsider, with some of the same characteristics that make Judy Garland and Joan Crawford so endearing to queer viewers. You can almost feel his need to belong, desperate and clawing. You empathize and excuse his ability to convincingly ‘pass’ amid the other characters – who among us hasn’t butched or femmed themselves up at one time or another – fearful at being discovered as the ‘other’. Even as the movie progresses and Ripley becomes increasingly violent in an effort to keep the lifestyle that his beloved Dickie Greenleaf enjoys, as an audience member you find yourself grasping on to Tom’s humanity. And this is where Anthony Minghella’s brilliance really shines through – he takes you to the edge of your ability to forgive Ripley’s actions, then suddenly presents you with a violently tender moment – rather than be mortified at Tom your heart bleeds for him.
This is also one of the first times American audiences got a good hard look at Jude Law – and apparently they liked what they saw. Law’s Dickie Greenleaf, the charismatic and spoiled deutersgonist, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars that year – although the film was largely ignored by the Academy otherwise. Yet again, Minghella’s expert direction really makes the character shine; at first Dickie is only spoken of, then our first glimpse is a longhsot through binoculars. When the Tom and Dickie finally come together into the same frame, they are both in bathing suits and a very clear picture is formed: Dickie is bronzed and healthily muscled, with a charming and confident smile and golden curls – Tom is pasty and thin (Matt Damon lost 30 pounds for the role) with thick glasses and flat mousy hair – Dickie is lounging comfortably in the radiant Italian sun – Tom is awkwardly hopping across the beach because of the hot sand. Dickie is everything Tom wishes he were. Everything about him is coveted – his money, his looks, and his love. I got the impression from Jude Law’s magnificent performance that Dickie is just as aware as Tom of the chemistry between them, and to his detriment uses that to get what he wants and needs from Ripley, namely that his hedonistic lifestyle is worthy of being desired and that his father is wrong about what he should be doing with his life.
So this movie already has a brilliant director and screenwriter, gorgeous cinematography, two powerhouse lead performances, and a hauntingly beautiful score – what more could you possibly ask for? Well I guess a fantastic supporting cast SHOULD be too much to expect but you’re going to get them anyway. I’m not normally a fan of Gwenyth Paltrow but even SHE is superlative as Dickie’s girlfriend Marge Sherwood. In fact, this is the ONLY performance of hers that I feel is worthy of that shiny gold statue she has.
Add Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the vile Freddie Miles – the only character that can really see through Tom’s facade – and you’re really cooking with gas. And then there’s Cate Blanchett. Like a few others that bear her name, I really can’t think of a moment I haven’t loved the woman. Is there a role out there she can’t do? Unfortunately there really isn’t much to her role here – another character that was expanded for the film version – but with what she has to work with she does wonders. Her characterization of Meredith Logue, another wealthy socialite with something to gain from Dickie, is magnetic and she ultimately becomes essential to the arc of the film, which features a much different ending than the novel.
So whether you’ve never seen the film before or you saw it when it came out it’s another one of those classics I highly recommend to anyone with a love of gay cinema. And as an added bonus in these harsh economic times, its age has made it relatively easy to find and cheap when it’s found. When $29.99 is the standard price tag on most new releases a great flick for under $10 sounds awfully sweet.
Well, that’s it for me this month – be sure to check out FanboyQ’s DVD Reviews again next month – until then you can drop me a line at FanboyQ@gmail.com