The Talented Mr. Ripley: What Minghella Made

Poster for The Talented Mr. Ripley, which premiered December 12, 1999 and opened on Christmas day that year.


Anthony Mingella has been gone now since 2008, having died of a hemorrhage following surgery.  Minghella's best known film is  The English Patient (1997), an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje 1992 novel, winner of the Booker award. He made Cold Mountain (2003), an adaptation Charles Frazier's 1997 Civil War novel, which won the National Book award. Every time certain type of literary novel gets published, I'm prone to ask WWMM (What Would Mingella Make?)

I'm a fan of both Matt Damon's and Jude Law's acting and love crime thrillers. I can't really tell you why I hadn't watched The Talented Mr. Ripley (screenplay), Anthony Minghella's 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel. The film had been on my wish list for quite a while, and today, I finally decided to get a copy and look at it. It had me from the opening sentence by Tom Ripley, played by Damon:
If I could just go back. If I could rub everything out. Starting with myself. Starting with borrowing a jacket.
The jacket in question is one sporting the Princeton crest which Ripley borrows from Fran (Getchen Egolf)'s boyfriend with an injured wrist who has prevailed on Tom to take his place as Fran's accompanist  while she sings at a 1950s garden party on a Central Park West terrace.  The jacket leads ship builder Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn, most recently appearing on tv in White Collar) and his wife Emily (Lisa Eichorn) to assume that Ripley has gone to Princeton, the alma mater of their jazz loving reprobate son, Dickie (Jude Law). Ripley plays along--after a pause--asking, "How is Dickie?"

In actuality, Ripley works as a men's room attendant at the theater hall where he peeks out to watch a concert and later plays the piano onstage until he is discovered by a janitor and leaves quickly among apologies. Tom is more than glad to accept Herbert's offer of $1,000 to go to Italy and try to talk Dickie into returning home.  Minghella sets all of this up in the less than five minutes, during the first part of the credits. During the remaining credits he shows Ripley working to learn to identify jazz greats. As Tom leaves on his mission, the Greenleaf chauffeur tells him that the the family is friends with the Cunard line and that association with the name "open a lot of doors."

We see just how close an association he is willing to feign when he tells a woman who has introduced herself as Meredith Randall(Cate Blanchett)that he is Dickie Greenleaf, traveling incognito under his mother's name. What is her name, Meredith asks and he improvises, "Emily. Just kidding." Meredith allows as she is traveling incognito, too, under her mother's maiden name, as she is actually one of the textile Logues.

And so, the telegraphing of a lot of information continues, as we are now at minute ten, two or so past the credits. And we haven't even seen an appearance by some of the others you will be awaiting: Dickie himself, his girl friend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow)and Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman), for starters.

As often, I'm glad I saw the film BEFORE reading the book. When I read a book first, I find myself casting it in my head and can be annoyed when the filmmaker diverges from my choices. It will be interesting to see what choices Minghella made. I am also looking forward to finding out a bit more about Highsmith, who for some reason I have never read and know little about. One book at the Tech library that looks especially interesting is The talented Miss Highsmith : the secret life and serious art of Patricia Highsmith by Joan Schenkar (NY, St. Martin's Press, 2009.) Apparently the biographer and her subject shared a distaste for their families as the former revealed in her 2011 essay for The Paris Review.