The Talented Mr Ripley - rated - SIMMERING

Very Beautiful People Behaving Very Badly

The cast of The Talented Mr Ripley is so beautiful, so glamorous and so talented that it's hard to blink. You just don't want to take your eyes off the screen. Jude Law has never been lovelier, Matt Damon acts like there's no tomorrow (but of course, in the film, there is) and Gwyneth Paltrow, in an acting duel with our Cate Blanchett , comes up trumps in an Ocelot coat and matching hat. The setting, too, is just stunning - and aren't we all planning out next holiday to Italy in the late 1950s?

The Talented Mr Ripley is based on novel by Patricia Highsmith. It has already been made into a film (Purple Noon) by René Clement in 1960. I saw that film on video a couple of weeks before watching The Talented Mr Ripley. I have to confess that I found the original version the more satisfying of the two films because, mostly, of its sheer economy. In twenty minutes less than the 140 minute running time of the remake, Purple Noon managed to tell the story in a brisk, bright, even breezy, no-nonsense way (though not exactly the same story - there are some crucial differences between the two films - between both films and the original story).

The remake is not at all off-hand in its approach. It is much more portentous - and moves much more slowly - to the extent that I became a little impatient. But I suspect that the viewer who had neither read the novel nor seen Purple Noon would notice this as much as I did. Still, with such a glamorous, stellar cast (it almost feels like the Golden Years of Hollywood), and with such fabulous location shooting, it's not such a hardship to linger languidly in and around the Mediterranean.

Matt Damon is sufficiently bland-looking to be an excellent choice for Ripley. But Ripley is also a chameleon - he takes on the characteristics of others, and Matt Damon rises to the challenge admirably. Jude Law is not only beautiful enough, but also skilful enough to show the complexity of the seemingly-stereotypical Dickie Greenleaf. Both Damon and Law are intelligent actors, and both give lovely, well-nuanced performances. Gwyneth Paltrow is fine as Marge, conveying well Marge's growing confusion and failure to see what is in front of her because of her conflicted feelings for Dickie. Cate Blanchett is excellent in the potentially problematic role of Meredith ( a character who wasn't in the book, and whose appearance alters the plot substantially). The only false note is Jack Davenport as Peter Smith-Kingsley. This excellent actor from the TV series This Life plays a gay character and has been dressed up and made up like some kind of foppish caricature. This is a real shame because Davenport looks false, but his performance is of a sensitive and likeable person - and the only real person in the whole group. His character, and Blanchett's are the linchpins for the changes director Anthony Minghella has made to the story.

The Talented Mr Ripley is an intelligent thriller that will keep you guessing, and will alarm you as you begin to realise that you're on the side of a very bad person. Director Minghella shows himself (along with veteran editor Walter Murch) to be a master story-teller and an expert in suspense timing. In Walter Murch, Minghella has one of the most experienced collaborators in Hollywood. He worked with Coppola on The Rain People (1969), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), and Apocalypse Now (1979). He worked with George Lucas on American Graffiti (1973) and was the only person to win Oscars for both sound and film editing on the one film, Minghella's The English Patient (1996). He also helped reconstruct Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958).

There are several scenes in The Talented Mr Ripley which will have you right on the edge of your seat. And the film itself is a fascinating meditation on the nature of identity. What is it that makes a person? Can we ever really know anybody? What if our wife/ husband/ closest friend turns out not to be the person we thought they were? Now isn't that a really creepy thought?