DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley’s Game, American Psycho; The Interview ; The King; The Ax; Tell No One, Fired! ; Secret Things; The Walker; Belle du Jour


Title:  The Talented Mr. Ripley

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: USA/UK/ English

Running time:  approx 105 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Paramount (USA), Miramax (Europe)

Director; Writer: Anthony Minghella, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith


Cast. Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cathe Blanchett, Gwenyth Paltrow, Jack Davenport

Technical:  Standard aspect

Relevance to doaskdotell site:  Gay-themed thriller


 Movie Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Paramount (USA) and Miramax (Europe)

Starring: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cathe Blanchett, Gwenyth Paltrow, Jack Davenport; Director: Anthony Minghella; based on the 1995 novel by Particia Highsmith; previously filmed in France by Rene Clement as Purple Noon (1960)

9.5/10 MPAA Rating: R (soft, could be PG-13)

This film is a mixture of genres: the art-house, period-piece (Italy in the "glorious" 1950's) literary epic (The English Patient, which Minghella directed in 1996) and plain-old Hitchcok. Indeed, this has the intense character-probing, the close-up shots (precluding use of wide-screen format) of Vertigo. The story also bears a resemblance to the arch-plot as in The Postman Rings Twice and Body Heat (1980). (In Body Heat, the villain [female in this case] gets away with it, too.)

Other sources (such as Time, Dec. 27, 1999) have reported the story ("plot") of deception and impersonation in detail, so I won't recount it here. Minghella has taken this film into psychological territory that deserves special notice.

One line from Ripley's mouth, "I'd rather be a fake somebody than a real nobody," seems to aim at what I call narcissism elsewhere on this site. Earlier, just before Ripley's second-degree murder of Greenleaf on the little boat near San Remo, Greenleaf (Jude Law) calls him a "leech" and also "boring." Now, in Do Ask, Do Tell Introduction I talked about the unarticulated old-fashioned "prohibitionist" impression of gay men as "freeloaders," so the script here uses the metaphor, "leech." Ripley has indeed laughed when Greenleaf announces he will validate himself by "getting married," and quite correctly accuses Greenleaf of running away from himself. "You're a fake, and I know who I am," Ripley screams, moments before conking him. A good gay fight. Indeed, Greenleaf's own manner is a bit precise and "faggoty." Another interesting line: Greenleaft, despite his obvious initial attraction to Ripley, calls him "boring" as well as a leech. I met that same charge in an interview for a closed talk group at the Ninth Street Center (explained in DADT Chapter 3), although I was struggling with my own perception of myself a physically ungamely and gawky, hardly a Talented Mr. Ripley. There are some great intimate scenes, such as when Ripley contemplates getting in the bathtub with Greenlead ("oh, not with you in it! - we know how Damon's voice comes across with a line like that!)

I do have a problem with the boat scene (and with an earlier scene in the train station with similar discussion). When you want somebody to split, to kiss off, you don't invite them to a 1:1 on a kayak-sized boat. You ignore them, turn off the mail controls to reject their email, change your phone number. You give no detectable response. Because this did have the makings of a typical stalking setup.

The thing about the narcissism was that (apart from having never skiied) Ripley is a lot more talented than Greenleaf. With any calculation at all, he could have made a lot of himself with legitimate means. Cathecting someone is something a lot more subtle than just following hi, around or stepping in his shoes and living a similar life, although earlier in my own coming out process, it took me time to learn that.

There is something else to say about the movie's viewpoint about marriage and "girlfriends." Both are shown as basically a sham. Ripley tells Law, "you don’t love her, you love me." And he's right. And here we enter my philosophy: to really strengthen (traditional) marriage and "family values," you have to allow men the freedom to understand what they are doing, and take the extra responsibility that goes with taking care of yourself first. None of the characters except Smith-Kingsley's (Jack Davenport) gentle homosexual one at the end (the cuddling scene with Ripley is quite touching… but then what???) seem to get that.

I love the line "officially, there are no homosexuals in Italy." Mussolini, still? But Smith-Kingsley comes out with, "then forget about Michaelangelo." 50's society just couldn't tale knowing, or even peeking. Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

And still another great line is the exchange "you don't choose your parents," when Greenleaf Senior retorts "you don't choose your children, either." So people try several times to get one "winner"? Lots of social issues here.

Another thing about the deception puzzles me: Ripley unclothed, looks a lot different (smoother) than Greenleaf, and Greenleaf comes back with "you're so White." Even the girl friends later don't "notice" men's bods as much as gay men do.

Ripley does come across to me as a "subjective masculine." And whatever his "Cunanan like" sociopathy, he comes across as more "masculine" sometimes than most straight men. The computer then predicts that Greenleaf is an objective feminine; and that fits, because Greenleaf is pretty bitchy sometimes.

This film is one of the best examples of a new trend in Hollywood: to take a compact, cohesive plot with relatively few characters and mine it for all the social meaning possible. Literary agents like to see this in manuscripts from new authors.


Ripley’s Game (2002, Fine Line, dir. Liliana Cavani) is based on a subsequent novel by Patricia Highsmith but it hardly comes across as a sequel. John Malkovich plays an older, balding and more less redeemable Tom Ripley. He seems like a Dark Angel, a sociopath who either came from another planet or came from nowhere. He sets up a complex assassination scheme targeting a Russian mobster and others in Germany and Italy, and indirectly hires a family man Jonathan (Dougray Scott) scheduled to die of chronic leukemia. Jonathan gradually becomes a partner in crime himself while Ripley shares snippets of his nihilistic philosophy in little one liner’s (it’s my game). The bodies pile up, especially in a train first class lavatory, where several accidental victims are garroted. The film is more entertaining for its style and spectacle than for any explorations of character, and that is its failing. 

There has been some controversy about this film because here Ripley is shown as having “gone straight,” as in one scene where a girl friend teases his chest hair through a bathrobe. But he does kiss a male early on. I guess he is bisexual. Though prim and in control, his appearance belies a certain decadence, going bald in the legs. It is hard to imagine Matt Damon playing this reincarnation of Ripley; he isn’t “evil enough”—although there is that scene in Dogma where Damon’s “angelic” character shoots everyone in a corporate boardroom in cold blood.

American Psycho: A couple other films relate to the idea of the anti-hero getting away with it. “Baleful” Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street yuppie, at the perfect age, 27, who can focus absolutely everything on himself, in American Psycho (2000, Lions Gate Films).  Well, despite the 10-minute skin cream facials, his face in some shots does look a bit older, with creases underneath the eyes and around the mouth.  Great bod, all right.  But, unlike Damon’s character in Ripley, Bateman really is nothing inside, no talents except for show, consumption, and sociopathic, pathological serial killing. (He says, in the opening scene, “I’m really not there.”) He really does make physical beauty temporarily symbolize something repulsive.  At the end, he goes on a shooting spree out in the open and he can’t convince his own pals that he’s really guilty, poor guy.  This is not Hitchcock, and seems removed from Hitchock’s 1960 BW thriller. Almodovar’s Bad Education comes much closer.


The Interview: There’s a great new Australian psychodrama, The Interview (1999, Cinema Guild and Pointblank Pictures) directed by Craig Monahan. The Aussies can make their cinema intense, as we remember from the films of Peter Weir.  Eddie Flemming plays a 44-year-old down-and-out drifter whom the Sydney police single out to add to their conviction rate.  Well, Flemming’s character (I can imagine Billy Bob Thornton in this one) turns the police upon themselves, by making up a story about serial killings with sling blades and fires, in the outback. The well-photographed grisly scenes, against open scenery, give you the outcome.  But the police get what they deserve.  The bad guy walks, having contributed to society by showing he can beat the system.  Effective, moody soundtrack with abrupt key signature modulations, almost as effective as the music in Ripley, and wonderfully recorded in Digital.  The occasional Sydney background looks surprisingly sterile. This may be one of the great ones, in the tradition of The Usual Suspects and The Spanish Prisoner.        

The King (2005, ThinkFilm/Tartan/Content, dir. Paul Marsh, wr with Milo Addica, 105 min, R) has a Patricia Highsmith kind of story, even if not by her. From the title and story, we can see at least a distant relationship with Shakespeare’s “King Lear” (which I had to read in Senior English in high school). The setup is simple. A troubled, discharged sailor and secret illegitimate son of a fundamentalist Texas pastor returns “home,” and literally kills his way into a place in the family. Sound like Patricia? I think this could have been a Hitchcock film, although it would have come across a much classier if it had. Here Gael Garcia Bernal plays Elvis Valderez, and he is made to look like a crossbreed, as if the anglo Pastor David Sandow’s (William Hurt) indiscretion had been with a Latino. Sandow has a wonderful family, with wife (Larua Harring), teenage daughter Malerie (Pell James), and blond high school senior son Paul (Paul Dano), who is on his way to Baylor next year. Paul plays Christian rock music and has written a paper on “intelligent design” which the local Corpus Christi, Texas school board (even in a conservative area) cannot include in its curriculum because of political correctness. Paul, in fact, is cast as the perfect kid, although a minor indiscretion in one of his songs angers his father. In the mean time, though, Elvis has been moving in on the family, challenging the Pastor, and then sleeping with the daughter, to the point of impregnating her (so this would be a child of a man and half-sister, incest). Their intimate scenes are done with some care. Paul goes to the motel where Elvis stays to confront him, and Elvis suddenly stabs him in the stomach, ripping his aorta and killing him almost instantly. Now we are in Highsmith territory. Paul covers up the crime by dumping Paul in a lake and burning the clothes, and then moves into the family and becomes part of it, taking Paul’s place. The police think that Paul ran away because of the minor confrontation. But there is more hellfire and damnation to face, even if the retribution at the ending is a bit ambiguous. Pastor Sandow (like Jimmy Swaggart) comes clean about his past sin with his congregation, but we are left wondering if anyone but Paul gets saved.

Viewed at a distance, the film gives a telling account of how important family position is to most adults. It makes it all the more remarkable that it means so little to the rest of us.

Though small, the film is in anamorphic widescreen, and looks good visually with the on location Texas Gulf area scenery. The soundtrack was a bit noisy. The first two times I tried to see this film, at two different theaters (in Washington, DC) at different venues on a platform release, the shows were canceled because of film print problems. I called Thinkfilm in Toronto myself about this, but finally the second theater had it working.

The Ax ("Le Couperet",2005, Mars, dir. Costa-Gavras, novel by Donald E. Westlake, 122 min, NR but would be R, France). A paper company executive Bruno Davert (Jose Garcia) and lead chemist in France loses his job to restructuring and downsizing, shortly after turning 40, with a family and a young son. He gets fifteen months severance page but five years later is still unemployed. Popular culture and head hunters consider him washed up. He rails against their expectation of conformity.  He decides to apply for a new position, with a new strategy: identify (with Google, perhaps) competitors for the position, stalk them and shoot them. Some of the executions are quite brutal, and happen in bucolic French and Belgian suburbs. (One point is that European capitalism can be every bit as materialistic and overdone as American.) This turns into black comedy, yet is dead serious.  His now teenage son Maxime (Geordy Monfils) gets in trouble with the law shoplifting. The police start visiting him, telling him his family is in danger because paper executives are getting, well, executed.

The film narrative is a bit choppy, as some of the story is told in flashbacks from a point where he is hiding out from his last murder (including striking and running over a guy with his car) in a motel; and it is sometimes unclear when we are in flash mode.

The film, while from France (and apparently not yet having American distribution), certainly fits the Patricia Highsmith genre. The novelist, Donald Westlake, is American (New York), and the story was adopted to a European setting.  

Fired! (2007, Shout! Factory, dir. Chris Bradley, Kyle La Brache, wr. Annabelle Gurwitch, 71 min)  Mentions the company Right Management, which did my own outplacement when I "retired" at the end of 2001. Has a great opening black and white scene where Woody Allen fires Annabelle, and it really hurts.  blogger link.

Tell No One ((“Ne le dis a personne”), 2006, Music Box / Europa, dir. Guillaume Canet, based on US novel by Harlan Coben, France, sug. NC-17. A pediatrician is investigated by police for apparent murder of his wife 8 years ago when he gets an email from her saying she is alive -- but then no one believes it. Blogger discussion.

Secret Things ("Choses secretes", 2004, First Run Features, dir. Jean-Claude Brisseau, 115 min, NC-17, France). Two young women Sadrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) and Nathalie (Coralie Revel) (a barback and nude dancer) get fired from a night club. They move in together, and after some lesbian masturbatory experimentation get themselves into the corporate world in order to seduce and corrupt the men. They're all too prepared to take advantage of the expectations of upper-class men. But one of them (Christophe -- Fabrice Deville) is a manipulative voyeur (who can turn on his own boss) and it can turn deadly.  The plot takes some twists, climaxing in an orgy scene at a palace that recalls "Eyes Wide Shut."  The ending, where a vulture feasts on the teats of dying Christophe (after a discarded ex mistress shoots him) is one of the grossest I have every seen. A bizarre thriller, to be sure. DVD is full screen. 

The Walker (2007, ThinkFilm/Pathe, dir. wr. Paul Schraeder, 107 min, R, UK/France) is a curious mixture of 50's style Fox Cinemascope fashion spectacle with Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith mystery plotting, and a touch of modern concerns about government corruption and the horrible risks (including ultimately terrorism) associated with it. The film opens inside a condo decorated with a lot of orange, and soon you see a foppish gay may Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) playing canasta with some rich older ladies (Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin).  Page speaks southern, as if to echo "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". He puts on a lot pretense (even wigs, that are well disguised). In the 50s, maybe gay men could get rich this way because they were no conceivable threat. But pretty soon we see laptops, and we know we are in present day. The movie, while shot in London (like "Eyes Wide Shut") reconstructs outdoor Washington DC well, especially the Meridian Hill area on upper 16th Street (probably with CGI reconstructions). One day, Lynn's (Thomas) male lover is found dead in his plush condo, his cat watching, his genitals sliced. Page makes the mistake of being the first on the scene (why is he there?) and becomes a suspect. Here the details of the movie, while posing interesting questions and speculations, don't seem to quite add up; maybe too many scenes were deleted. He is arrested but is released without bond (the DC police wouldn't do that). The victim's cat bonds to him when he takes the pet in, which may help establish his innocence (presumably the feline knows who did it). Page has a boyfriend who dabbles in gumshoe hi-tech amateur investigations of matters like the S&M aspects of Abu Ghraib (there is a bizarre effect where the boyfriend shaves a chained, hooded figure's chest on a computer). There is a subliminal or perhaps direct message that amateurs who get involved with such matters can attract trouble (perhaps criminal, perhaps terrorists, or perhaps being framed) to themselves and others around him. This impression is reinforced in later developments, such as a confrontation with Senator Lockner (Willem Dafoe)and "Bush brain" Ethan (Michael Reynolds) who warns Page that he is on the wrong side of history.  By this time, we also get the innuendo that some combination of Bush's Brain and the Vice President are behind illegal tortures and it is being covered up (I saw this film at the Reel Affirmations 17 film festival the same weekend that "Rendition" opened).  The denouement, with a hit and run, doesn't quite add up. But this turns out to be a rather bizarre thriller, mixing genres (even recalling "Advise and Consent"), using established stars in an independent movie that seems to be trying to be all things to all people. But it just moves too slowly.

Belle du Jour ("Beauty of the Day", 1967, Miramax/Zoe, pr. Martin Scorsese, dir. Luis Bunuel, 100 min, R, France)  In this rather notorious film, Catherine Deneuve plays Severine ("Belle"), a frigid housewife who can't make it with her physician husband Pierre (Jean Sorel), so she becomes a daytime prostitute. Unfortunately, some of her customers have some rather sadistic intentions, and one of them is a potential assassin (however "smooth"). Finally, well, she learns. (No wonder the other women are jealous of "Belle" on "Days of our Lives" with her two men.)   


Related reviews: Bad Education      Strangers on a Train (Highsmith)   Rendition  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil   Advise and Consent

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