Sunday, 31 August 2014


(Spoilers throughout.)

There's a point in every film where you're presented with what the protagonist has to lose. Squashed just before the halfway point, you're presented with an almost-perfect diorama, one you know the hand of the plot will mess up any second. Your character has made some gains. They've reached whatever they've been looking yearningly towards for an hour - it's either in the palm of their hand or so close they can almost touch it. Perhaps there's a cheerful montage. (I love a cheerful montage.)

For Tom Ripley and Richard Karlsen, their Things To Lose are things I would really hate to lose. Tom Ripley is just having a brilliant, brilliant time with Jude Law: on a boat, on sepia-toned cobbled streets, in a jazz bar. The bit when Law's character Dickie Greenleaf gestures for Tom to join him on stage for a sort of tasteful bit of karaoke made me realise that perhaps that's been my own life goal all along.

Richard is having a cracking time too. His beautiful girlfriend Lara is making him imagine a house, and then carefully interpreting what every feature means. They're looking at each other across a cafe table with gooey fondness in their eyes. This adolescent attention to detail is so lovely that it's what I kept thinking about for the rest of the film: two people, opposite each other, relishing even the most mundane parts of each other's brains.

'The Talented Mr Ripley' and 'What Richard Did' are two films that would get along with each other. Both feature young men with huge senses of entitlement; both feature objects of affection who, when they stop being objects and start to exercise their free will, frustrate the protagonists hugely. The first half of each film is defined by a yearning that cuts the main characters wide open; in the second half, they are forced to make rough, disfiguring stitches, to close themselves off.

Richard doesn't lose his golden life as opposed to throw it away accidentally. He and his friends beat up his girlfriend's ex so badly that after staggering out of shot, he dies. The death feels like hugely disproportionate karmic payback for Richard; it's so rooted in the everyday (a teenage party with everyone sat on the stairs and drinking cheap beer, a quick shot of his girlfriend chatting with said ex-boyfriend, a bit of an argument) that the fact Conor went and died is as shocking to the viewer as it is to Richard. Tom's moment of crisis, however, is different. Removed from the context of the small Italian town setting, and the clutter of people who always surround them, Dickie and Tom almost become archetypes in their small wooden boat. We see only them and the wide sea behind them. After Dickie smirking at Tom's declaration of love and going on about how "boring" he is, over and over, the real-world reaction would be to punch him, perhaps, or just tell him to shut up before going home and listening to Frank Ocean while eating a ton of chocolate. Yet Tom violently murdering Dickie makes grotesque sense within this timeless, contextless ocean space. Unlike Conor's horribly everyday death, Dickie's seems faintly unreal.

Either way, the result is the same. Both men, neither hugely fond of sharing to start with, are full to bursting with a secret they cannot tell. You see in the silences that pepper their conversations: it's the only thing worth saying, yet they have to keep it in. Richard's guilt manifests itself in cowardly passivity, encouraged by his dad (Lars Mikkelsen, who was unexpected and marvellous). At one point, he says he will hand himself into the police, but it's never a real possibility - it seems like it's something he might just about think now and again, the thought like a tonic, knowing that it's something he would never do. Jack Reynor plays this hard-eyed guilt spectacularly. The camera, recognising this, lingers over his emoting face almost to excess.

Tom's guilt is the catalyst for 'The Talented Mr Ripley's' shift into a more typical genre movie. He is a man always on the run, yet a man who always manages to trip himself up. We move from a romantic bildungsroman that comments on class and identity to a thriller - which also has big things to say about identity, but someone will probably be holding a knife while they say them.His act of murder forces him to change, aggressively. The transformations he spoke of earlier in the film are no longer party pieces; in killing Dickie he is forced to surrender his own identity in increments until by the end of the film he is no longer Tom Ripley at all.

It's hard to know much about Ripley - he's a liminal character, full of contradiction - but the definitive statement about Tom comes from Jack Davenport's Peter, who says, with all the detailed, observant affection of Richard and Lara in the cafe, that Ripley is "talented, tender, beautiful, a mystery". This obviously biased opinion shows up in Richard's father's face, in his girlfriend's continuing affection - the people who love Richard and Tom have tried them and found them still human and complex despite their crimes.

There's no doubt there's a special privilege that comes with being a wealthy white man who has done 'What Richard Did'; they are seen, almost, as victims, their violent acts as anomalies. By making Richard and Tom the protagonists of their films, rather than Conor or Dickie - or Lara or Marge (who also suffer) - we're expected to empathise with them. We meet them long before they murder, and stay with them after. It's a moral situation that is important to bear in mind while watching - and enjoying, because I did enjoy them - these films.

Am I still thinking about it? Definitely. Even if some of that thinking is 'Why were the opening credits like that?' I really loved it.

How long is it? 139 minutes. (It feels it. I love it enough to recognise that.)

Who should watch it? Fans of noir-ish thrillers with flawed protagonists.

Am I still thinking about it? A little. Jack Reynor's acting was amazing, as was that of all the other teenage characters.

How long is it? 88 minutes.

Who should watch it? People who like slow-burn drama.

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