This week on Be Reel, we dare to ask a question posed by many conned, spurned and murdered Patricia Highsmith characters: “Who are you, Tom Ripley?”
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Anthony Minghella’s seminal Matt Damon vehicle “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Noah and Chance seek out the character’s origins in the acclaimed Patricia Highsmith novels of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. What makes Tom Ripley tick, and why is he so compelling that at least five films have been made (with varying levels of American distribution) about him?
To properly understand how these adaptations have used the character, we travel back to 1977 to unpack Wim Wenders’ “The American Friend,” which pits Dennis Hopper against Bruno Ganz, with the existential question of “what drives strangers to kill?” In 1999, the character gets the real aforementioned Hollywood treatment with Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow on the picturesque Italian coast. Ripley’s origin story is mired in sexual identity and the seeds of sociopathy. But to comprehend the slippery Ripley, a viewer must also understand that these movies are about power and influence and class.
Finally, in 2002’s “Ripley’s Game,” John Malkovich takes on the titular role and a similar plot to “The American Friend” to push Dougray Scott and Lena Headey to their breaking points. Directed by Liliana Cavani, an influential Italian filmmaker in the Bertolucci-led wave, “Ripley’s Game” falls squarely in the middle of the stylized travelogue and clearcut realism. Is that a good thing?
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