Review: Three Versions of 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'

‘THE Talented Mr. Ripley’ is a 1955 psychological thriller by Patricia Highsmith that won an award as best international crime novel. It had several sequels and was first made into a French movie in 1960, “Purple Noon”, starring the French heartthrob Alain Delon as Tom Ripley. 

Then it was remade in 1999, using the original title, with Matt Damon in the title role. Now, Showtime is doing it as an 8-episode mini-series written and directed by Steven Zaillian who won the Oscar best screenplay award in 1993 for “Schindler’s List”. His version stars Andrew Scott, a British actor best known as Moriarty in BBC’s “Sherlock”, as Ripley. 

The basic story in both film versions is about Tom Ripley, a young man who befriends Dickie Greenleaf (played by Jude Law in 1999), a rich and irresponsible American staying in Europe. Tom later kills Dickie and assumes his identity. In the French version, the film starts when Tom and Phillip’s (Dickie is changed into Phillip) friendship is about to end and foregoes the sexual undercurrents in their relationship, with Tom more interested in Phillip’s girlfriend, Marge. The ending is completely different from the book.

The Hollywood version is more faithful to the book, offers a fresh take, and is more explicit about Tom’s homosexuality, about which the novel is somewhat more vague. Directed by Anthony Minghella (Oscar winner for “The English Patient”), it’s much more glossy in the Hollywood manner, with the plotting more detailed and satisfying.

Matt Damon’s portrayal of Tom is more complex, nuanced and creepy, while Alain Delon is just too much of a beautiful eye candy on screen to be credible as a vengeful killer. Matt is well supported by Jude Law as Dickie. The new movie also adds new characters: Cate Blanchett as Meredith and Jack Davenport as Peter. 

In “Purple Noon”, Phillip (played by Maurice Ronet) is more of a bully who abuses Tom’s friendship and also his girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforet). Jude Law’s Dickie is more of a charming wastrel who is a spoiled rich man’s son, but never cruel or abusive. The chief difference is that Delon wants what Greenleaf has: his money and girlfriend. In contrast, Matt’s Tom wants to be Greenleaf himself, trying to consume Dickie’s personality by totally taking on his identity. 

He starts with homoerotic feelings for Dickie and when it is not returned, you know that his desire is doomed from the start. He becomes more destructive and gets more and more sucked by the chaos of his own deception. 

The irony of it is that we, as viewers, somewhat pervertedly sympathize with Tom and don’t want him to get caught. It’s obvious no happy ending is possible for a cold-blooded psychopath like him. In this film version, Tom finds a lover in Peter but eventually, he also kills him in the end. 

In the French film, Alain as Tom is shown going to the cops not knowing that the body of Phillip has already been discovered and the cops already know about the crime he did. In the book, Tom gets away with the crime and becomes rich, but he is forever fearful that cops might be out to get him, which is why it had several sequels. We think that this is the narrative that will be followed by the new mini-series, making Tom a not too distant cousin of “Dexter” and Penn Badgley’s character in Netflix’s “You”. They’re all serial killers.