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‘The Proficient Mr. Ripley’ at 25—Frank, Queer, and Forward of Its Time

The primary take a look at screening for The Proficient Mr. Ripley was, as producer William Horberg remembers it, “a complete catastrophe.” The early reduce of Anthony Minghella’s 1999 movie, tailored from Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, plopped its eponymous con artist (Matt Damon) right into a seaside Italian city—the place aimless scion Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Legislation) had began dwelling along with his girlfriend, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow)—as if he’d fallen straight from the sunny Sicilian skies. The place did Tom Ripley come from, why was he there—and wait, lower than an hour in, why did he kill Dickie on a rowboat manner out within the Ligurian Sea? The gang rebelled. “When the oar got here down on Jude Legislation’s head, it was actually as if the oar had come down on the viewers’s head,” Horberg says. “They have been completely unprepared for the film to take that violent left flip.”

Phil Bray/Paramount/Miramax/Kobal/Shutterstock.

Sydney Pollack, whose firm Mirage Enterprises financed Ripley, gave the director a chunk of recommendation as they mentioned the inevitable edit to comply with: “You’ll be able to drive the bus wherever you wish to go, but when it says ‘hell’ on the entrance of it, you’ve received to let individuals know once they’re getting on board.” So Minghella, contemporary off an Oscar win for 1996’s World Struggle II drama The English Affected person, rejiggered Ripley’s first jiffy, invoking the ghost of Hitchcock a couple of instances alongside the way in which. The jagged new credit sequence echoed North by Northwest. The music known as Vertigo to thoughts. Minghella additionally established a flashback construction, starting the movie on its ultimate shot, and wrote a haunting aria with composer Gabriel Yared that hummed to the motion of the brand new opener—and he satisfied Sinéad O’Connor to carry out it. He even peppered within the slightest little bit of foreshadowing, with Tom reflecting through narration, “If I might simply return, if I might rub the whole lot out—beginning with myself, beginning with borrowing a jacket….” The remainder of the film went unchanged. Upon hitting theaters on its Christmas Day launch, it debuted as a field workplace winner.

The Proficient Mr. Ripley was at all times a examine in contradictions. The movie assembled what was arguably probably the most stunning, auspicious ensemble of any Hollywood film that decade. Shortly after being forged, Damon went on his Oscar-winning Good Will Searching run and performed Personal Ryan in Steven Spielberg’s lauded warfare epic. Paltrow received her Shakespeare in Love Oscar months earlier than Ripley’s launch; one among her fellow first-time nominees was Elizabeth’s Cate Blanchett, a pivotal supporting participant in Ripley. Legislation was the one core forged member nonetheless searching for a breakout, and he discovered it in Dickie Greenleaf, his smoldering, cocky portrayal serving as a direct launch to hunky stardom in addition to an Oscar nomination.

However then there was the matter of the particular content material: a difficult, moody, horny antihero saga that additionally occurred to be frankly queer, filled with homicide, and avoidant of any kind of feel-good ending. “Our actors had been catapulted right into a stage of stardom that they didn’t have once we shot the film, so the viewers was coming with an entire completely different lens of expectation,” Horberg says. “Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, the director of The English Affected person—all of it appeared to vow an epic love story.” Ripley delivered the furthest factor from that, in fact—one thing that, 25 years later, seems much more spectacular and related, even when again then it felt radically out of time.

Miramax/Courtesy of Everett Assortment.

Horberg, who received an Emmy in 2021 for producing The Queen’s Gambit, had wished to adapt Ripley for years. Finally he and Mirage commissioned Minghella to jot down the script for rent, whereas The English Affected person was caught in preproduction limbo within the mid-’90s. Minghella, who died in 2008, wasn’t but a sufficiently big identify for the studio to contemplate him as a director. After he’d written the Ripley script, he started prep to movie The English Affected person, whereas mushy presents to direct Ripley went out to legendary filmmakers like Roman Polanski, Mike Nichols, and Bernardo Bertolucci. “Some weren’t obtainable, some weren’t ,” says Horberg. Then The English Affected person, distributed by Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Movies, premiered as a worldwide sensation, received 9 Oscars together with finest image, and turned Minghella into the most well liked director on the town. Fortuitously, the Ripley job was nonetheless open.

Initially an arty gamble developed at Paramount, the mission had sudden momentum and launched into a storied casting journey. The function of Tom had been provided to Leonardo DiCaprio, whose Titanic was about to make him an enormous star; he mentioned no. Jim Carrey actually wished to play the half, however Horberg says that the conversations with him “by no means went anyplace.” Issues took form as soon as Weinstein got here in to cofinance. “Harvey had mainly determined that he was going to be concerned in no matter Anthony did subsequent, come hell or excessive water,” Horberg says. Weinstein introduced in Damon and Paltrow, who had future Oscar-winning work within the pipeline for Miramax however weren’t but A-list sufficient to say no a dangerous if rewarding script. Legislation wasn’t both, however he nonetheless turned Ripley down outright 3 times. “His agent’s like, ‘You die on web page 45, Jude!’ ” Horberg says. “However [Minghella] received actually, actually satisfied that he couldn’t make the film with out Jude, and his persistence paid off.”

Courtesy of Everett Assortment.

Add Blanchett and some different rising stars, and a dream group assembled. “It was high-profile from day one,” says strategist Tony Angellotti, who helped run the Oscar marketing campaign. Coming off of her personal dizzying awards run for Shakespeare, Paltrow expressed some reluctance to get again on the path: “Thus far, I’ve solely felt kind of the traumatic a part of it,” she instructed the Los Angeles Day by day Information round Ripley’s launch. “It goes on for months, and it’s so exhausting and draining. I imply, you assume, ‘Is that this some recognition contest?’ ” (When Paltrow instructed The New York Occasions in 2017 that Weinstein, now serving a 23-year jail sentence for rape in New York, had made undesirable sexual advances towards her within the mid-’90s, it turned even clearer how tough that course of had been.) However the bulk of the publicity was generated by Damon and particularly Legislation, the true discovery of the forged. For director Sean Durkin, whose starry new A24 launch The Iron Claw hits theaters on December 22, Legislation’s work in Ripley was so memorable, it knowledgeable his resolution to forged the actor 20 years later in his marital drama, The Nest: “It’s one of many nice performances and one of many nice characters.”

Legislation is just one of many components that make Ripley nearly obsessively rewatchable. Minghella hooks the viewer with that foreboding prologue, then delivers a glittering slice of Euro escapism. We meet a really tan and shirtless Dickie and a relatively aloof Marge by the seaside of Mongibello, the place Tom introduces himself as an previous Princeton classmate who simply occurs to be on vacation. (Evidently, he didn’t attend Princeton.) He worms his manner into their lazy lives, boating with them to Rome and San Remo and again once more, hinting at his shape-shifting nature alongside the way in which: his terrifyingly spot-on impersonation of Dickie’s father (James Rebhorn), his expertise for forging signatures, his fast analysis when pretending to match Dickie’s love for jazz. In Ripley’s ultimate hour, Dickie’s boorish bud Freddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman—sure, one other eventual Oscar winner) observes of Tom, “You’re a fast examine, aren’t you?” He’s subsequent on Tom’s kill record.