Set in the late '50s, Tom Ripley, a poor underachiever, convinces a wealthy shipyard owner, Greenleaf, that he knew his son from Princeton university. Little does Greenleaf know that Tom borrowed his Princeton jacket only to play piano at the garden party. See Tom is a personable young man, always on the lookout for a profitable angle, so when Greenleaf offers him $1000 to find his son Dickie Greenleaf and convince him to return home, Tom packs his suitcase and heads to Italy.
Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), is a born con-artist, a shiftless, personable young man always on the lookout for a profitable angle. He convinces millionaire shipyard owner Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) that he knew his son, Dickie, at Princeton and happily accepts a paid assignment to go to Italy to bring the errant Dickie home. Dickie, (Jude Law), a profligate lover of the good life, is enjoyng himself in southern Italy with his girlfriend Marge, (Gwyneth Paltrow) – he isn't fooled by Ripley, but he accepts him for a while – which proves to be a fatal mistake.
Like Patricia Highsmith's novel, this is an uneven film, especially in the latter stages where it takes too long to come to an unsatisfactory conclusion (the earlier film of the book, Rene Clement's Plein Soliel, managed it better). But the first half beautifully captures the attraction of Italy in the '50s to rich Americans, and there are terrific performances especially from Jude Law as the arrogant Dickie, Cate Blanchett as a rich, wafty American tourist (her every gesture a model of perfect timing) and Philip Seymour Hoffman as an annoyingly observant acquaintance. Anthony Minghella isn't, perhaps, the director he's cracked up to be; he's better on atmosphere and detail than on storytelling. But he has the great good sense to use John Seale behind the camera.
This lush, engaging film covers terrain that always interests me – that of the outsider, desperate to be part of the group, in this case it's the financially disadvantaged Tom with his nose pressed up against the window of the a carefree, glamorous and rich world of Dickie. It reminded me a lot of A Place in the Sun. And the texture of the relationships is fascinating, Dickie is carelessly disdainful until Tom begins to amuse him and then when he gets bored he has no more interest.
The film is absolutely magic while Jude Law is centre screen, it does tend to lose a bit of puff without him. Philip Seymour Hoffman is incredibly good, as is Cate Blanchett, in supporting roles. But more than anything else the look of this film makes you understand why Italy was such a seductive place in the late fifties, truly the land of la dolce vita. A final plus, the jazz soundtrack is fantastic!