It seems to me that there are a great deal of really, really lame films in the world.
We all know the sort - ones that have a good plot but the actors let it down because their interpretations of the characters are wooden and emotionless; ones with seemingly irrelevant plot amendments that are only carried through by the half naked, sickeningly toned bodies of their leading cast members; films where the only thing impressive is the budget, which gets rammed in your face as much as possible, making us all distractedly aware of the price of this movie; and ones that employ cheap, grotesque shock tactics without much relevance at all other than to get us all talking and wincing about it.
I still have time for these movies. The only problem is that I leave the cinema thinking or saying, 'Yeah it was all right - but if only they'd done this bit differently though...' Which, I imagine, will happen regardless of the film. Yet, every now and again, I watch a film and I just think, 'Yes!' Because, while I may not think it has mass cultural appeal, or is 'the best film ever made ever', it is perfect in the way that it wants to be. One could say that it is the best of it's genre. But I mean it more broadly than that.
A great example, in my opinion, is The Talented Mr. Ripley, directed in 1999 by the late Anthony Mingella. Every time I re-watch this beautiful film I am surprised by its excellence. Every aspect of it is perfect. The locations ('Come to Maaaawngggi, Toooooomm!' drawls Philip Seymour Hoffman in another brilliantly portrayed role), the costumes (of course the costumes!), the score, the shots, the colour grade - everything is perfect. It really sets the tone for a beautiful, beach-side murder story full of rich kids and thwarted sexual and social aspirations, a la Bonjour Tristesse!
A great deal of its brilliance comes down to the casting, which I feel is both as exceptional as it is surprising. I am amazed that Mingella managed to squeeze the best performance of Jude Law's career out of him to play Dickie Greenleaf, the spoilt, capricious heir to a wealthy New York family. Matt Damon, who is always brilliant, is supreme at making us really understand the frustrations of his character in terms of class, sexuality and general feelings of inadequacy that eventually lead to murder. Even when he is bludgeoning Jude Law to death with a rowing boat oar, I still find myself blaming Jude Law's character for being so cold. Quite a remarkable feat, considering this character could so easily be played as 'the disenfranchised psycho.'
The supporting cast (another group in films that often appear like an unnecessary addition, played by second rate actors) are all faultless. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is nothing short of a genius in his role, bringing complexities to yet another character that could quite easily have been a two-dimensional prop for the leading cast members. Cate Blanchett, another of my favourite actors, is both irritating and sweet as Meredith Logue, the young woman lead by Tom Ripley to believe that she both understands him on a profound level and also understands that he is someone else entirely - Jude Law's character!
When I watch her squirm and flutter her eyelashes I am reminded of the many other girls I have met who I like and find annoying at the same time - and this is the brilliance of her role, the truthful dichotomy she imbues the character with. In fact, this dichotomy runs throughout the story. And it is this that really makes it real, preventing it from becoming a pastiche or a cliche, as it divulges the true complexity of human nature and human situations - in beautiful settings, the resonance of which, can turn eerie and cold, despite the glorious Italian sun which shines over murder and deceit.
What I really love is that the style and the beauty of the production in no way bogs down the emotion or intent of the story, as with many other films. It does the reverse: the slight nods towards nostalgia and Italian 1960's film actively add to the feel of the entire piece, without ever becoming overriding. Neither does it condescend to its audience by making everything explicit. Indeed, there are many ambiguous looks that describe not so much a straight-forward arrow to the eventual outcome, but the frailties and insecurities of the people the story is about. Although, when well acted, this of course does the latter as well! The camera takes its time, gives the characters enough room to be lived in, without hurrying along sad or complex moments just in case the audience's attention is lagging because nothing has exploded or got naked in the last scene.
Basically, I love it on all these different levels. And, regardless of the murder and everything else, the ultimate message that to lie about yourself is to live a life alone, I still want to put on a pair of pleated trousers and a pork-pie hat, leap onto my yacht and sail away in the direction of Sicily pouring Gwyneth Paltrow a martini. This is the power of supreme film-making - it poses moral questions and leaves you to make up your own mind on who is right and who is wrong, and why. With this in mind, I'm off to purchase said pleated trousers, so leave you with these pictures of the wonderful cast and costumes and a cute little tribute video someone has made to Matt Damon singing My Funny Valentine. You gotta love it.
I fucking love those glasses, Matt Damon. I'm fucking Matt Damon.