Before it was a movie, it was a novel by Patricia Highsmith. It's the first of a series of novels featuring the Tom Ripley character. It's a wonderful book, full of beautiful and romantic descriptions of Italy. The character study of Tom Ripley is incredible. Not just in the exploration of his character, but in his adaptaion of someone else's personality. You get to see his need to become someone else, his inablity to function as himself before and after becoming Dickie Greenleaf. And it asks a question that has intrigued writers and movie makers for years: Is it possible to commit the perfect murder?
The movie differs from the book in many of the important details, but the ending is just as surprising and exciting. The movie also explore Tom's sexuality, and his sexual feelings for Dickie Greenleaf. In the book, the homosexual aspect of Tom's character was only briefly touched upon. All in all, both the movie and the book are outstanding and I highly recommend them both. But my rule is: read the book before you see the movie.

I've gobbled up three of Patricia Highsmith's later Ripley novels, but for some reason I found this one unreadable. It might be this: Highsmith (at least in the Ripley novels; nothing else appears to be in print) specializes in creeping dread, anxiety, and general muted uneasiness. Well, in this one -- at least in the opening ten pages or so -- the uneasiness is not muted. In fact, it rubbed my nerves so raw after three pages that I couldn't take it any more and I put the book down. I'd recommend starting with any of the other Ripley novels, and then see if you like this one.

Then there's the movie. What to say about the movie? Language fails me, but we can start with this:

If you walk into a movie theater and a giant steel bear trap snaps shut on your leg, and then the opening credits of this movie appear on the screen, get your teeth around that leg and chew like hell.

It's two and a half hours (or maybe three; it seems like ten) of a psychopath parasitizing a series of tedious assholes (who generally despise him), and then brutally murdering them. All of this is beautifully filmed in gorgeous light. Wherever Ripley goes, he is intensely uncomfortable, and that discomfort is shared with the audience. Wherever he goes, he lies outrageously and then has to improvise his way out of it, sometimes by beating somebody's head in. Somebody always suspects, but nobody can quite prove anything. The uneasiness mounts. The audience begins to squirm.

There was not a single character in this movie the appearance of whom I did not learn to dread. The only character I did not loathe was Ripley's final victim: He was okay, but I knew he was going to be killed so I dreaded him as much as the others.

This movie would be an ideal choice for people who really, really enjoy loathing, disgust, and despair.

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