Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anthony Minghella – R.I.P.

I was briefly one of The English Patient's most tireless advocates (my review in the college newspaper called it "the most adult tony love story since The Unbearable Likeness of Being"). The Talented Mr. Ripley provoked more reserve, but that one at least had a chewy, trashy core which Minghella thought he could spice by injecting the most risible kind of Hollywood homophobia/homoerotica. Maybe he thought that turning Tom Ripley into a sensitive type who bumbles into murder in the tradition of the Hitchcockian wrong man was easier for the audience to accept than the story of a budding, eager sociopath (Matt Damon's Oscar-calibrated "I always thought it was better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody" monologue is as grossly misconceived as Damon's Tootsie specs). I couldn't finish watching Cold Mountain, its year's Atonement. As Miramax's go-to man for glossy adaptations and Harvey Weinstein as his Louis Mayer, all Minghella needed was his Norma Shearer. Maybe he found her in Jude Law, who acted, with increasing desultoriness, in three of his films. But I still remember the shock of Law's Dickie Greenleaf, as chilling a depiction of callow privilege as I've seen. A few people walked out of the theatre when it became clear that Dickie did not firmly reject Ripley's coming on to him in their bathtub scene; Dickie says "No" softly, momentarily flattered and entranced. 

So it's appropriate to regard Minghella as a failed David Lean, fascinated by exotic landscapes, sun-kissed vistas, and a vision of sexual relationships as one in which malice was a natural consequence of thwarted desire. He got good performances from frosty types like Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Cate Blanchett, and Nicole Kidman. I like The Talented Mr. Ripley even though it's a near-total botch of Patricia Highsmith's book. Its sentimentalities aside, it depicts a particularly American kind of class envy, what with characters in pastel flannels mixing martinis, marveling at new refrigerators, fucking their girlfriends in a boat cabin, and heading to the San Remo Jazz Festival on a scooter with their arms around Jude Law's waist. 


The Manthony said...

I've never read any of the Ripley novels, and after seeing Malkovich in Ripley's Game I wasn't sure if the character rapidly progressed in confidence upon initial success or what, exactly. In hindsight, I can see how Talented Mr. Ripley is watered down, but the performances are really enjoyable, esp. Jude Law as you noted.

I don't think I ever saw any of his other films, though one of these days I might check out Truly Madly Deeply. Alan Rickman as a romantic ghost! Hey!

Alfred Soto said...

I saw TMD years ago on PBS, so I'm not prepared to comment on it. The film of Ripley's Game, though, is terrific.