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), who's spending his inheritance loafing on the beach with his 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 a 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 cast's period-appropriate faces. Damon crafts a frightful but 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 him. This new adaptation portrays Tom as a closeted homosexual – he covets Dickie, not Dickie's lifestyle. So it seems an odd 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 the film is moderately suspenseful, it 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.