Deconstructing Cinema: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Deconstructing Cinema: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Paramount Pictures

Original release: December 25th, 1999
Running time: 139 minutes

Writer and director: Anthony Minghella

Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport

Peter and Tom: 02:00:00 to 02:08:30

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

Actors are very strange birds and even odder still when they covet a role in a play or film. Deep in the heart they know the moment that they could have made the part more alive, real, tragic.

Seldom too they stand back and say that was absolutely perfect.

This brings us the film I will be talking about this evening, The Talented Mr. Ripley and the Tom Ripley of Matt Damon.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Talented Mr. Ripley

The film in a word is perfect. Locations, divine, costumes, you would love to wear, lighting, music, passion, greed, lust, betrayal, murder and finally redemption.

It is the redemption of Tom of which I would like to think about and so we’ll go to the last scene in the film where Peter and Tom are sailing away into their happy ending. After murdering Freddy and Dickie Greenleaf, we still root for Tom.

TOM: Ask me what I want to change about this moment.
PETER: I don’t know, what do you want to change about this moment?
TOM: Nothing.
PETER: I’m freezing, you coming down?
TOM: Later, I wanna catch the sunset
PETER: You’re mad.
TOM: I am.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Talented Mr. Ripley

As Marge faces utter collapse in her knowledge that Tom is in fact the murderer of Dickie and not only will he not be caught, he will be rewarded by Mr. Greenleaf and given Dickie’s inheritance

But alas it is not to be for Tom Ripley is cursed. As he and Peter sail away to safety, tucked warmly in their suite aboard a cruiser, Tom spots Meridith and Meredith spots the impostor Dickie Greenleaf… Immediately she brings him to her family and the game must begin again. The game is survival.

Tom returns to the suite, where he is gently confronted by Peter about knowing Meridith. Tom denies the friendship, wrapping Peter in his arms when he will in just a few seconds strangle him to death, forge a suicide note and hang Peter Smith Kingsley in the closet…to be found by a steward; a victim of his own self hate and loathing.

TOM: I suppose I always thought – better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.
PETER: What are you talking about – you’re not a nobody! That’s the last thing you are.
TOM: Peter, I… I…
PETER: (conciliatory) And don’t forget. I have the key.
TOM: You have the key. Tell me some good things about Tom Ripley. Don’t get up. Just tell me some nice things.

He sits on the bed, leans against Peter. His eyes are brimming with tears. He takes the cord from Peter’s robe and begins twisting it in his hands.

PETER: Good things about Tom Ripley? Could take some time!… Tom is talented. Tom is tender… Tom is beautiful…
TOM: (during this, and tender) You’re such a liar…
PETER: …Tom is a mystery…

Tom is pressing against him, moving up his body, kisses his shoulder, the cord wrapped tight in his hands…

Tom returns to his cabin. Sits on the bed, desolate.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Talented Mr. Ripley

PETER: (cont’d) …Tom is not a nobody. Tom has secrets he doesn’t want to tell me, and I wish he would. Tom has nightmares. That’s not a good thing. Tom has someone to love him. That is a good thing! (feeling Tom’s weight on him) Tom is crushing me. Tom is crushing me. (suddenly alarmed) Tom, you’re crushing me!

Tom will resume, for a while at least, his life as Dickie Greenleaf. It is in this last moment that the actor truly elevates the role and in my mind becomes a masterwork. As he sits staring at the fractured mirror and the splintered pieces of his personality, Tom begins to grieve, we see his loss, his love for Peter, his chance at happiness gone…he has feelings.

Many actors and directors would chosen to have Tom be completely blank at this moment, thus giving us the opportunity to label him a borderline personality, a serial killer.


  • Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1992), Vintage Books

Tom killed out of survival and we still want him to win, to be free…to see that he is in fact equal to or really a cut above that which he aspires too. It is in this moment that Matt Damon makes Tom Ripley unforgettable.

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