After the Oscar-winning success of his Michael Ontdaatje adaptation The English Patient (1996), writer-director Anthony Minghella took on a very different literary source – the first novel in Highsmith’s ‘Ripliad’. In the preface to his screenplay for The Talented Mr Ripley, he provides insight into his approach to adaptation. He refers to the process as ‘sharing one’s inner cinema with the audience’ and that ‘the screenplay, obliged to work in its own right, is both an argument with the source material and a commentary on it.’ Almost four decades after Clément’s Plein Soleil, Minghella sought to be more faithful to the source novel, beginning with the inclusion of scenes in New York that were absent from the earlier picture.
He also wanted Matt Damon to be closer to the Ripley of the book: ‘When you cast Alain Delon as Ripley, it’s very hard to imagine him ever wanting to be anybody else, particularly as everybody who watched [Plein Soleil] wanted to be him.’ Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf – the bronzed bon viveur whose father hires Ripley to bring him back to the US – is more fully fleshed out than the same character in Clément’s film. Minghella emphasises Dickie’s interest in music – in one scene he drags Ripley to a Naples jazz bar and they end up on stage performing ‘Tu Vuò Fà L’Americano’ (‘You Want To Play The American’). The lyrics of Renato Carosone’s famous neapolitan standard subtly reflect the themes of the film (the fecklessness of youth, pretending to be someone else, living fast and free but on a parent’s dollar).
The supporting cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow as Dickie’s aspiring writer girlfriend Marge and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie, a friend of Dickie’s whose increasing suspicions about Ripley place him squarely in the protagonist’s firing line. Cate Blanchett plays heiress Meredith Logue, a character written especially for the film and whose presence, according to Minghella, ‘accentuates that this is principally a story about young people, each of whom is running away from something.’