(This post was originally published in 2011.)
I’m not sure why Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley hasn’t become more iconic, both in terms of film making and fashion. This 1999 adaptation (there was an earlier French version from 1960 titled Plein soleil starring Alain Delon) of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel of the same name captures the beautiful mix of American prep and southern Italian style.
The film is set in 1950s, but the clothes can provide summer inspiration year after year. Not to mention that the said clothes are on what may possibly be the best looking cast ever: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett. A costume designer’s dream, I would think. The design was brilliantly executed by Anne Roth (google her, she is amazing!), a long-time Anthony Minghella collaborator and an Academy Award winner (for the equally excellent The English Patient).
All the characters are, in a Hitchcockian manner, equally unlikable and likable. Jude Law (that face!) and Gwyneth Paltrow play Dickie Greenleaf and Marge Sherwood, a wealthy WASP-y couple strolling comfortably through a life of leisure and luxury. On the other hand, Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley is a man living in pretense of said life, insinuating himself into their lives and developing an unhealthy infatuation with Dickie (not that I blame him).
This film is all about menswear, and Dickie’s clothing in particular. He comes from an old money East Coast family, a Princeton graduate and a free-spirited brat. Dickie is definitely someone that would have inspired the book Take Ivy. When we, and Tom, first meet him, he sports some pretty wicked patterned swim trunks. His summer wardrobe consists of knitted polo shirts, an array of colourful Bermuda shorts, white slacks, and linen blazers. On the other hand, Tom, more of a boy-next-door, enjoys the styling of gingham shirts, khakis and corduroy blazers. Although incredibly handsome in his own right, Tom always feels inadequate in comparison to Dickie (as anyone would).
The casting of Gwyneth Paltrow as Marge Sherwood, a Grace Kelly-esque pastel dream is nothing short of brilliant. Unlike Dickie, she is actually working on a book in Italy. Marge wears breezy short sleeve white dress-shirts tied at the waist, paired with mid-length full skirts — very romantic with a hint of demure sexuality. Later as her love life shatters into pieces, she adopts a darker Hitchcockian blond look, complete with a leopard print coat (the most beautiful leopard print coat ever!) and a dangling cigarette.
Cate Blanchett’s Meredith Logue is a supporting, but very crucial, character, as a wealthy heiress that befriends Tom. For the ten minutes she is on the screen, she sizzles in cashmere, fur and bright red lipstick, never letting you forget that she will return in the most inopportune moments in Tom’s life.
So much of the film’s storytelling is in the clothing. Dickie wears his clothes with ridiculous amounts of confidence, a trait Tom lacks. Tom is the character who wears the simplest, most generic, non-descript attire, perhaps mimicking his devoid personality. It lets him blend in and hide behind all the flashy glamorous characters he so longs to become, hoping for an acceptance.
P.S. I complely forgot Philip Seymour Hoffman was in this film. RIP.