I don’t have a ton of time today as I’m preparing for a weekend trip and want to get a couple of films in tonight. However! I found time to re-watch one of my favorite films from the 90’s; The Talented Mr. Ripley. Gearing up the old brain cogs, I tried to pick a focus. A shot that showcases some career-best work from either Matt Damon, Jude Law (I’ll never get over how impossibly good-looking he is here) or Gwyneth Paltrow? Or maybe a shot that reflects the source material and the way each depicts the duality of Ripley and his co-existing narcissism and identity-shedding self-loathing. Or maybe a shot that focuses on the homoeroticism between Ripley and Dickie? Or possibly a shot that allows me to talk about Walter Murch’s editing and thoughts on the mind-staggeringly genius book of conversations with between him and Michael Ondaatje?
Alas, this is to be a short entry and when it comes to task the shot that has always stuck out to me more than any other is one that doesn’t represent the larger fabric of the film. Instead, it is the embodiment of boorish slime as portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of Freddie Miles. Hoffman is my favorite actor working today and here, in the same year he played compassionate nurse Phil Parma in Magnolia, he takes a role like Freddie and embodies him, reflecting back all of Ripley’s self-disgust; wholesale. In a typical supporting sleaze-threat role he pushes every facial expression and gesture further, hand perpetually resting in mid-air, threatening to actually rest on something.
I’ve never seen this face from Hoffman in any other performance. Every time I see this shot, his jazz-swerving body and that unyielding cold-stone pucker, there’s a visceral pull-back reaction; like I just witnessed something very very gross. It’s like one of his facial tics gets momentarily transplanted onto my face. Freddie doesn’t know Ripley, but he’s already got the intuitive fix on him; he sees a mooch, a counterfeit outcast in sheep’s corduroy clothing. This shot is the first indication. Below is a tribute to the gestures and airs of Freddie and Hoffman’s performance, all conveyed in a handful of scenes, most of which cannot be fully appreciated with screenshots.
Some other non-Freddie favorites: