A strange thing happened to me last night that very rarely occurs but did last night in the most unexpected of ways.
Gwyneth Paltrow came on screen and I YELPED.
Yes faithful readers, like a dog….. A small dog.
This is a picture I remember watching not long after its release and thinking little of it. Matt Damon is generally decent, Jude Law and Ms Chris Martin Paltrow are generally banal, hence the lack of tangible enthusiasm for revisiting the flick. Fate led me by the eyes however following a decision to do my dissertation on the ethics of adaptation, a viewing of PLEIN SOLIEL and the reading of the excellent Patricia Highsmith book on which both films are based….. It was time to head back to Mongibello.
In respect of being honourable to the source material, Anthony Minghella’s screenplay sticks to the structure of Highsmith’s original work far closer than it’s older French cousin. We are very quickly introduced to Ripley’s fantastic world where the desire to rise above his lowly social status is all consuming. This Ripley as not the pathological character Highsmith dreamt up, but still carries with him a creepiness that never allows you to get comfortable with him.
I was pleased that Minghella retained Papa Greenleaf’s plea to Ripley to travel to Europe to return his wayward son Dickie. This element of the book provides a constant narrative thread as well as a further motive for Ripley’s actions, Dickie lives off his father’s wealth which requires his regular correspondence, Tom just happens to be a master impersonator. This is the life Ripley feels he deserves though he has no reason for believing so. These two facets of his personality were always going to be a catalyst for trouble.
Disappointment came with Ripley’s initial social standing. In the book he lives in the crummiest of abodes, filthy and rundown. In the film, despite hearing a couple arguing in the flat above, he seems to live in the kind of place a Greenwich Village bohemian might frequent, tuning into Charlie Parker and Chet Baker in preparation for his future encounter with the Jazz loving Dickie.
In the interests of cinematic pace (although this is still considered the slowest part of the film) the friendship that blossoms between Dickie and Ripley is intense and rapid. Contrary to the book, Dickie’s girlfriend Marge, adequately dealt with by Paltrow, is instantly taken by the newcomer and the two also develop a bond. This is neat screenwriting. Minghella has cut out much of the time from the novel that Dickie and Tom spend together; this gives no motivation for Marge to dislike him so much which also makes her change of opinion later in the film all the more powerful.
The friendship between the two men has a distinct homoerotic hue to it. One only has to look at the chess in the bath scene. This is also a factor of the Freddie Miles relationship, camped up by an ever reliable Philip Seymour Hoffman. What transpires is a love triangle between the 3 men with Marge reduced to the role of mildly attractive screen furniture.
“But Paltrow made you yelp” I hear you think silently…
And I’ll tell you why.
Following the disposal of Dickie in a brilliantly staged boat scene (EXACTLY as I pictured it when reading the novel but with a more pronounced emotional angle) Tom takes up the role of Master Greenleaf whilst the police try to find the killer of Freddie Miles. (Also disposed of by Ripley when he rumbled his scam) It’s this section of the film that lacks the tension of the book but it does score in one respect….. Gwyneth Paltrow.
In the book Marge does not leave Mongibello to look for Dickie, she’s in constant contact through Ripley’s forged letters, and believes he’s alive, but she doesn’t think to travel for a confrontation. This after being inexplicably dumped like a hot stone…… in the film she does, and it’s that first time she bumps into Ripley in Rome that has me squealing like a baby. “She’s not supposed to go to Rome!!!!”
And here’s where literature and cinema come together in perfect harmony. You only have 2 hours to tell this story and you’ve got to make the film audience taste the suspense of the book….. Minghella does a fine job, a real fine job.
Should we sympathise with a man who has killed twice by such brutal means? In the case of Tom Ripley, it’s hard not to. He doesn’t do anything throughout the film to alienate the audience besides be a little clingy, he’s like the guy at school who no-one hung out with but was really rather cool when you took the time to speak with him. Do we want him to get away with it? That’s a completely different question and one which the movie answers completely differently to the novel…..
I take it all back….. This is a fine movie.