Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley, a New York nobody who is sent by a millionaire to Italy to bring back that millionaire's son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law, terrific), now spending his inheritance loafing on the beach with his stiff, whiny girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow - well cast!). Ripley winds up befriending Dickie... then falls madly in love with him. After something horrible happens, Tom winds up assuming Dickie's personality amongst strangers, while everybody else wonders just what happened to the real Dickie.
This is great-looking movie that takes place in the early '50s and genuinely feels like it, from the Technicolor look of the film stock down to the well-chosen period faces. Damon crafts a somewhat heartbreaking character, and Gabriel Yared's score is jazzy and rich.
My only problem is with the story. I don't know Patricia Highsmith's original novel, but its first screen adaptation, the French film Purple Noon, played down the homoerotic aspects and depicted Tom as a sociopath who so covets Dickie's golden lifestyle that we're not surprised when he resorts to drastic measures in order to become Dickie. This new adaptation portrays Tom as just a frustrated closet homosexual - he covets Dickie, not Dickie's lifestyle, so it seems a mere plot contrivance that Tom should decide to start living his life as Dickie. It's like two halves of a story that don't quite click together. And while it's moderately suspenseful, the film never allows us to either love Tom or hate him, so I for one didn't care whether or not he was caught in his charade.