Monday, March 24, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) ***

R, 139 min.
Director: Anthony Minghella
Writers: Anthony Minghella, Patricia Highsmith (novel)
Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport, James Rebhorn, Sergio Rubini, Philip Baker Hall, Celia Weston, Rosario Fiorello

I wasn’t a huge fan of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” when it first came out. I felt Ripley’s success as a manipulator and murderer was almost too random and although Matt Damon played the role well, I couldn’t see him becoming the master of skills that Patricia Highsmith’s ultimate anti-hero would eventually become. I also didn’t feel there was enough suspense, especially considering the almost accidental success of the character. Upon a second viewing 15 years later, I liked it better. It was easier to observe the nuances of the character this time around, but I still feel the world around him lacked equivalent nuances. The later film “Ripley’s Game”—starring John Malkovich in the role of an older Ripley that seems written expressly for the strange character actor—is a much better example of what Highsmith’s character is all about.

However, this is not why I’ve featured this movie today. The reason I’ve chosen “The Talented Mr. Ripley” as today’s Penny Thought is because it includes the work of a character actor whose name most would not recognize, but whose face is very familiar in modern film. James Rebhorn often played authority figures in movies populated by popular actors such as Matt Damon and Jude Law. In this film, he played the father of Law’s character who unwittingly brings about the demise of the son that he cares dearly for by hiring Ripley to go to Italy and convince his Dickie to come home to New York. Ripley’s con begins with the father, appearing so innocent to the man when even Ripley doesn’t yet know the depths of which he’s capable.

Rebhorn died Friday at the age of 65. Diagnosed with melanoma in 1992, his death marked the end of a long battle with cancer, through which he never stopped working. Most recently he had become known as the father of Claire Danes’ trouble CIA agent on the popular Showtime series “Homeland”. He appeared in more than 100 movies and television programs, including such popular fare as “Independence Day”, “White Collar”, “Law & Order”, “My Cousin Vinny”, “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle”, “The Game”, “Meet the Parents”, “Regarding Henry”, “Basic Instinct”, and “Cold Mountain”. He appeared on stage in the original 1985 production of “I’m Not Rappaport” and in critically lauded revivals of “Our Town” and “Twelve Angry Men”.

Like so many of our great character actors, he was recognized by many but known by few. His work was always exactly what each production needed. His presence will be missed on stage and screen alike.

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