That Moment In ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ When Freddie Begins To Suspect
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a 1999 crime thriller set in late 1950s when a young underachiever is sent to Italy to retrieve a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy, but is soon taking on a much more malevolent plan.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a rare gem, a modern film that is character and conversationally driven, devoid of almost all conventional action, and yet often unnervingly tense, dripping with rich atmosphere and filled with authentic performances. That’s pretty high praise, sure, but it’s well-earned, the film a stylish and challenging work that truly gets better the second time around. It’s like a throwback homage with a new-age edge, and nearly twenty years later, still as creepily effective as on release. Let’s take a look.
It’s set the 1950s, and centers on Thomas Ripley (Matt Damon), a struggling bathroom attendant who borrows a Princeton blazer to play the piano at a Manhattan rooftop garden party, eventually mistaken to be the friend of a wealthy man’s son, that of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Thomas plays into this and, amazingly, is offered money to travel to Europe to convince Dickie to return home. Seems easy enough, yet once there, Thomas instead becomes seduced by the luxury that European can afford and, once ingratiating himself into Dickie’s lifestyle, uses his impressive skills as a forger and impersonator to sustain a cruel and ultimately deadly lie.
Directed by Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley patterns itself much like a Hitchcockian thriller, being a chilling character study about a man who is undeniably evil yet genuinely enigmatic and charming, conscious of his actions and desperate for affection. Problem is, this time, he’s got himself entangled in a fast-paced world far, far out of his league. Both Damon and Law are terrific, delivering some of their best work, though believe it or not, Damon finds the perfect pitch as he portrays a number of characters and personalities, sometimes boyishly naive and others menacingly frightful, carrying the film. This is a nuanced and very subtle turn, one that is arguably his best on screen, especially since he’s made a career out of the Bourne series, a character that is relentlessly devoid of expression. Here, he is slick, brash, and disarming. It’s great stuff.
There are a number of smart moments in The Talented Mr. Ripley, however, I want to concentrate on one in particular, one ripe with suspect that begins after Ripley arrives in Rome and cleverly convinces Dickie that they actually knew each other at Princeton, even though Dickie has no recollection at all. Think what it would take do that. Won over by the boyish and affecting innocence of Thomas, Dickie’s fiancée Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) invites him to dinner and soon enough the three grow to be rather close. However, Ripley soon meets another (real) friend of Dickie from Princeton, that of Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is opaquely cold and contemptuous about Thomas, never once believing what he sees in Thomas. Meanwhile, Ripley further pushes himself into Dickie’s life, eventually to the point of claustrophobia for Dickie, which sours their relationship and leads to a bitter confrontation at sea, one with devastating consequences.
So the moment. Again, it’s important to know that Ripley is a master of impersonation, able to mimic many people’s voices and mannerisms almost on the fly, which he did to impress Dickie early on, using his father’s voice. Later on, this ability has allowed him to actually pretend to be Dickie, taking up a lifestyle that he could never afford on his own. Stealing Dickie’s identity, he takes up residence in a lavish Greenleaf apartment, furnishing it with expensive though conventionally aristocratic furniture and amenities, even having the staff call him by his adopted new name.
One night, Freddie stops by, looking for Dickie, who seems to have gone missing, and he notices things aren’t quite so right in the apartment, especially the “bourgeois” decor, which is nothing like Dickie’s style, but worse how Thomas has seemingly taken on the physical appearance of Dickie himself, with a new hairstyle and fashion sense.
A brief verbal battle begins where Freddie tries to dismantle Thomas, commenting on the tacky furnishings and Thomas’s new look. Ripley senses that Freddie is suspicious and yet maintains this cold, calculated smile that is heartily unnerving to watch. This, combined with Gabriel Yared‘s squirm-inducing score, makes the scene incredibly sinister. Just look at this image.
The moment is a terrific little dance of give and take, one that defies expectations with us believing this is when Freddie is going to flip the tables as it were, and indeed, he does in a sense, now convinced that he’s unearthed a truth about this new friend of Dickie. Watch what Freddie does with the piano and how his notes add to the thickening tension. Notice Thomas’ reaction to it as well, where we would think, as in any other film, a person under suspicion as such would be shaking, sweating, trying to hide their intent, yet, no so with Thomas. He stands there unmoving, a growing grin pursing his lips, a look that signals to us that he knows now that Freddie’s got him, but like a spider, sees it as a bug caught in a web rather than anything threatening.
Look too how Minghella introduces the stone bust on the pedestal and how it is positioned between the two characters before its real use comes into play. Without a single word or bit of senseless narration or even a musical sting, we understand entirely what is happening and more so, what is coming, all in the motion of the characters and the subtle visual information passed between them. That’s smart. Have to give Damon credit again as well, for this could have been a weak moment, where it becomes all too obvious, yet instead, he deftly controls it all with a dark and menacing sting that makes Thomas so deliciously evil. Playing the bad guy is a risk for guys like Damon, and few do it often or with any success, but here, he absolutely smacks it right out of the park. Watch The Talented Mr. Ripley.