Channel 4: Sunday 5 July, 1.10am
A chance encounter allows envious Matt Damon to worm his way into the idle lifestyle of Jude Law, an expatriate American sunning himself on the Italian coast in the languid 1950s. Law takes his good-hearted girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow for granted and is too self-absorbed to notice the anomalies in Damon’s demeanour and behaviour. Anthony Minghella’s sleek and seductive adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s authentically nasty thriller smooths out some of the rough edges of the book’s anti-hero Tom Ripley, a sneaky opportunist who’d rather be a fake somebody than a real nobody. Damon is well cast as the creepily self-loathing Ripley who, sexually ambivalent and unctuous, sets about rising above his station with a few fake smiles and a facility for mimicry. But Minghella’s script makes him a victim of class snobbery and circumstance, almost an accidental sociopath. It’s still a chilling performance in a beautifully composed film that’s full of fine acting, including a viciously camp turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jude Law’s obnoxious and suspicious friend Freddie Miles. It was this performance that first brought Hoffman to the attention of Meryl Streep (they’d later act together in Doubt). “I thought to myself: My God, this actor is fearless,” said Streep. “He’s done what we all strive for – he’s given this awful character the respect he deserves, and he’s made him fascinating.