The Talented Mr. Ripley takes us through a psychopathic journey that begins when a homosexual's love is spurned and he goes off on a killing spree.
Our hero in question is Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) whose trip begins when he wears a Princeton jacket to a piano recital. The father of Princeton graduate Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) then requests Tom to travel to Italy to convince his errant son to return to New York, in exchange for a thousand dollars. Tom arrives in Italy and becomes entangled in the lives of Dick and his love interest Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) and develops a bond between them which lasts until Tom's money runs out. Dickie then spurns Tom which ends in a murder, the first of many. Tom then shows his talent for impersonation and begins impersonating Dickie which leads to more murders to protect his secret.
The most frustrating aspect of the movie is that each time Tom is caught, he manages to escape. This suspension of disbelief is fine with me, but the movies drags for too long and the same method of escape is used. It is not because of Tom's ingenuity that he survives, but rather in spite of his stupidity. It is coincidence that lets him off. And each time, Tom doesn't learn his lesson (or perhaps he cannot). The final sequence on the boat was unnecessary and the movie would've been better ended (with some judicious editing for the parts before) at the time Tom bids goodbye to Marge and Dickie's father.
Damon and Law present fine performances, as does Paltrow. For Damon, this is clearly a remarkable character turn from roles he has played previously (such as the one in Dogma) and he does a terrific job in pulling off Tom's psychosis. Law is well-cast as a cocky and disarming hedonist.
A lot of people found the gore in this film to be excessive and disturbing, but watching the film I was able to look beyond the actual violence and try to rationalise why Tom Ripley behaves the way he does (or I'm completely desensitised to violence on screen---after all, I laughed during Saving Private Ryan). As I mentioned before, aside from the pacing, the movie is a dark look at the workings of friendship and love, and how jealousy and the desire to be accepted can take hold of one's emotions. Entangled within this complex web of relationships is the notion of hiding secrets, be it homosexual tendencies or murderous desires or just plain insecurity.
I cannot help but sympathise, in a pitiable manner, with a character like Tom Ripley who must struggle to overcome the personality he's burdened with. Tom's clearly conflicted, but he is not strong enough to change the course of his life and accept happiness when it is presented to him---instead he behaves in a self-destructive manner (much the way abused people sometimes react to those who try to care about them). The Talented Mr. Ripley is a work of fiction, and somewhat extreme in its depictions but the parallels in the world (less extreme, but more really) are what is depressing.