The Talented Mr. Ripley, released in 1999, is a unique and innovative psychological thriller and drama. The film was directed and written by Anthony Minghella, a screenwriter, playwright and director. Previous to Ripley, Minghella directed Inspector Morse and The English Patient, which led him to win an Academy Award for Best Director. The film was produced by Sydney Pollack, William Horberg, Saul Zaentz and Tom Sternberg, with an overall production budget of 40 million USD. The Talented Mr. Ripley has been greatly successful and achieved a number of prestigious awards, as its innovative take on the crime genre has led to it becoming a cult classic. The film has been nominated for 80 awards and received 10 wins, including 'Best Costume' and 'Best Original Score' in the 2000 Academy Awards, and 'Best Motion Picture' in the 2000 Golden Globes USA.
The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Patricia Highsmith, first published in 1955. The film captures the aspects of suspense central to the psychological thriller. The film also keeps the 1950s setting through costuming, music and numerous shots of vintage cars and architecture. This setting is greatly significant, as it presents the post-World War period in which America emerged as a prosperous, optimistic nation. During this period, individuals purchased luxury goods on a larger scale, which in turn led to greater social class division, as social stratification occurred between those who lived luxuriously, and individuals struggling to purchase daily necessities. The Talented Mr. Ripley taps into this phenomenon through the parallel between Dickie Greenleaf's inherited wealth and Tom Ripley's financial instability.
The film revolves around the protagonist and narrator Tom Ripley, a complicated character who is skilled in the arts of forgery, lies and manipulation. A key factor behind the success of the film lies in the ambiguities surrounding Ripley's character. Through a variety of filmic techniques such as dialogue, close-ups and over the shoulder shots, the viewer is brought into Tom's perspective and goes along with Tom's spiral into confusion and anger. We are encouraged to empathize with his plight, while also appalled by his acts of violence and murder. In this way, the film clearly and boldly portrays Tom Ripley as an intriguing, tortured protagonist. The film also subverts the typical crime fiction mode of narrative, becoming a 'reverse whodunnit'. The viewer is aware that Tom Ripley is the murderer, while watching the main characters try to piece together the mystery. This provides great suspense.
The line "it's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody," spoken by Tom, also encapsulates notions of identity and self-worth that are central to the film. Tom Ripley is not only in a state of financial instability when we first meet him, but his identity is unstable as well. Identity is a central theme of the narrative. Other crucial themes include humanity, deception, violence and wealth. The Talented Mr. Ripley stylishly pushes the boundaries of crime fiction to new limits and presents a faithful but exciting adaptation of a classic novel.