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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book vs. Film: The Talented Mr. Ripley vs. Purple Noon and The Talented Mr. Ripley

Basic Plot: Tom Ripley is a small time conman who weasles his way into the life of his former acquaintance, Dickie Greenleaf, after Greenleaf's parents become frustrated with their son's extended vacation from his responsibilities. Dickie is amused by Tom at first, but quickly grows tired of him which eventually leads to Tom killing Dickie and assuming his identity. Thus begins a cat and mouse game as Tom tries to elude the authorities but still maintain his hold on Dickie's fortune.

Primary Differences Between Book and Purple Noon: The Rene Clement directed film skips over a lot of the book's set up, beginning the story in medias res with Tom and Dickie's friendship already on its last legs, and giving the story a totally different and very un-Highsmith ending. The film also foregoes the sexual undercurrents of the two men's relationship and has Tom instead reserving his interest for Dickie's girlfriend, Marge, whom he intends to marry after forging Dickie's will so that the money will be left to Marge.

Primary Differences Between Book and The Talented Mr. Ripley: The Anthony Minghella directed version is actually fairly faithful to the book, although it ups the death count (which is no mean feat given how much Patricia Highsmith loved killing off characters) and actually plays up Tom's homosexuality, which Highsmith's novel is somewhat vague and indirect about.

For The Book: Patricia Highsmith doesn't have the most notable prose style - her sentences tend to be rather blunt and dry - but she is excellent at crafting scenes of suspense and at delving into the psychology of her characters. Tom Ripley is an endlessly fascinating character and Highsmith unpacks his inner self for the reader, teasing out the dark corners of his psyche and using his growing turmoil to set and reset the tone of the novel. It's a fantastic read that can be revisited multiple times without losing any of its particular magic.

For Purple Noon: It's a very stylish film and Alain Delon's performance as Tom is really captivating. The ending is well-constructed and, while completely different from the ending of the book, is still pretty great, just in a different way.

For The Talented Mr. Ripley: Minghella's take on the story is intelligent and well-made in a glossy, Hollywood way and Matt Damon's performance as Tom is solid and complex. The film also features Jude Law's fantastic, star making (and Oscar nominated) turn as Dickie Greenleaf.

Winner: Book. Both films are well made - though Purple Noon has the edge over The Talented Mr. Ripley - but Highsmith's complex and thrilling book is a tough act to follow.

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