When directing The Talented Mr Ripley, Minghella was careful to capture the unique quality of the novel, while also being conscious of adding his own take to the film. In order to achieve this, Minghella read the original novel many times. He then put the novel down, and did not look at it at all while writing the script and directing. Minghella explained that his goal was not to appropriate the book and put the dialogue in quotes; rather, he wanted to creatively re-imagine the book as a film. In doing so, Minghella made a few changes to the original book to make it more dynamic on screen. For example, Peter is a very minor character in the book, but a major character in the film. In this way, re-imagining and re-interpretation were pivotal to Minghella's relation to adaptation. His interpretation makes for a riveting version of Patricia Highsmith's story.
A key goal of Minghella's was to create a sense of empathy for the seemingly unsympathetic character of Tom Ripley. Over-the-shoulder shots show us the world unfolding through Tom's eyes, while the "dark basement" soliloquy emphasizes Tom's inner turmoil and puts the viewer in Tom's corner. As Tom himself insists, "No matter what you do, no matter how awful, no-one ever thinks that they're a bad person," and the viewer cannot help but agree. Casting Matt Damon in the title role was also an important element of cultivating empathy with Tom; his innocent, boyish expressions are consistently endearing, which makes the moments of dissociative violence all the more chilling. Minghella's aim to make Tom a true protagonist is very effective, as it causes the viewer to connect and identify with Tom, while remaining unable to quite understand his mysterious moral blocks.
Minghella's original interpretation of the novel also greatly shaped the direction of the film. He views the plot as a story that shows what happens when an individual loses faith in themselves and will do anything to invent a new identity, even if it involves destroying themselves and others in the process. This is clearly evident in the film's tagline—"It's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody."
Minghella collaborated with the composer Gabriel Yared to compose an original lullaby that Ripley plays at the very beginning of the film. He intended for this song to sound quite tribal, emphasizing ideas related to the baseness of the human condition, such as violence, anger and mourning.