Thomas Ripley’s playing piano at a fancy, New York garden party. Wearing a borrowed Princeton blazer, he meets shipping magnate, Herbert Greenleaf. Tom pretends to know his son, Dickie. Tom works as a lavatory attendant, brushing people’s shoulders. Herbert pays Tom $1,000 to go to Mongibello, Italy — to get Dickie to return home. Tom researches Jazz music, Dickie’s favourite.
Tom arrives in Mongibello and soon introduces himself to Dickie — saying they were both at Princeton. Soon, Tom’s invited to lunch where he chats with Marge, his girlfriend, who mixes Martinis. Tom says his talents are: forging signatures, telling lies and impersonating people. He then impressively impersonates Dickie’s dad. He says Herbert’s paying him to bring Dickie home.
When Tom’s leaving, he tactically drops some jazz records on the floor. When Tom claims that Charlie Parker isn’t a man, he’s a god, Dickie is amazed. He insists they both go to a cellar bar in Naples — that Marge hates. That night, Dickie’s kissing another woman and Tom’s invited to sing.
Tom, Dickie and Marge go sailing. Dickie pokes fun when Tom reveals that he can’t ski or sail. Furthermore, Dickie’s maid, Ermelinda, says Tom washes out his clothes every night. Dickie says Tom should wear his. When preparing a letter, Tom ensures Dickie sign his full name, not just Dickie. Tom analyses Dickie’s handwriting, saying Dickie has secret pain and that he’s vain.
Dickie and Tom go to Rome. Dickie hopes Freddie made a reservation. Freddie’s organising a skiing trip to Cortina. He shows up in a red, convertible sports car sending pigeons scattering. He jumps out and starts grandly assessing and praising the young, Italian women nearby.
Dickie is in Freddie’s bubble, now. Tom reluctantly goes sightseeing. Dickie doesn’t show at the station, so Tom catches the train back alone. At Mongibello, Tom frolicks in Dickie’s clothes. Dickie arrives and is unimpressed. Freddie drove Dickie home and he’s downstairs. Freddie mocks Tom for dressing up.
Marge explains to Tom that you feel glorious in Dickie’s presence, then freezing cold when he forgets you. When Dickie follows Marge below deck to fool around, Tom can’t help but stare. Freddie teases Tom about this.
Herbert Greenleaf writes Tom that the trip is finished. Dickie invites Tom to the jazz festival at San Remo as a big, final farewell. When Tom nuzzles up to Dickie who’s sleeping on the train, Dickie wakes and calls him out for it, embarrassing Tom.
As they watch the jazz that evening, Dickie asks Tom about Princeton. Tom confesses he never went. Dickie refers to Princeton people as “the Cream of America” — rich and thick, Freddie being a prime example.
Dickie rents a small boat. Dickie wants to marry Marge. When Dickie tells Tom he doesn’t love him, he says he’s glad Tom’s leaving — calling him a leech and boring. Tom gives Dickie the creeps. Tom ultimately bloodies Dickie’s head with an oar, then kills him. Tom embraces Dickie’s corpse, then swims ashore.
At their hotel, Ripley assumes the Greenleaf identity. In Mongibello, Tom practises Dickie’s valuable signature. Tom tells Marge Dickie wants to stay in Rome — to be alone. Marge thinks this odd.
In a forged letter from Dickie to Marge, Dickie mentions moving permanently to Rome. Tom then goes to Rome alone. Meredith Logue recognises Ripley from customs — she still thinks he’s Dickie Greenleaf. She’s going skiing with Freddie in Cortina. They shop, then go to the opera.
With Meredith briefly elsewhere, Tom finds Marge there, also, with friend Peter Smith-Kingsley. Tom suggests they all meet the following morning at the Piazza di Spagna. When Ripley catches up with Meredith, he wants to leave. He explains how hard it is to not think of Marge. Ripley agrees to meet her the next day at Dinelli’s — also on Piazza di Spagna.
Next day, the three socialites recognise one another in surprise. When Meredith sees Marge, she says she’s actually waiting for Dickie. She was at the opera the previous night with him, but he still loves Marge.
Tom watches this scenario play out from a safe distance. Meredith leaves and he hurries over to Peter and Marge. Marge says Dickie was sighted at the opera the previous night, Tom’s shocked. Everyone knows Dickie hates the opera.
Ripley moves into a plush, new Roman apartment. He opens presents and drinks wine lavishly in his bathrobe before a large fire. Suddenly, Freddie knocks at the door.
Freddie wonders why Dickie didn’t come skiing and why he’s being so elusive. Freddie casually insults the décor and jabs at piano keys. He talks to the landlady who says Dickie’s always playing the piano — Dickie doesn’t play the piano. When Freddie goes to confront Tom, he’s soon bludgeoned to death with a bust of Emperor Hadrian.
Next day, the police visit Ripley, believing he’s Dickie Greenleaf. Ripley says Freddie left his apartment at around eight or nine the night before. The autopsy suggests Freddie was killed at around seven. Tom imagines Dickie’s reflection while on his scooter and crashes.
Marge asks about the bruising on Tom’s face. He says he was standing up for Marge, and Dickie hit him. If the police learn that Dickie has a violent temper, it would look bad for Dickie.
When Ripley returns, he rushes upstairs, blaming the bruising on photographers hounding him. Ripley says that he last saw Thomas Ripley a few days ago. The inspector asks about Ripley’s trip to San Remo with Thomas Ripley on November 7th. The inspector says they rented a boat in San Remo that day and booked a room at a hotel under the name Dickie Greenleaf. This boat recently turned up filled with rocks.
Marge is announced, to confront Dickie. Ripley requests that she come back later. When the police leave, Marge finds the apartment. She speaks to a silent Tom through the door. She says he’s broken her heart and leaves sobbing. Ripley types a letter from Dickie intended for Thomas Ripley. The letter explains that the deaths of Freddie and pregnant suicide victim villager from Mongibello, Silvana, have really shaken him and that he’s suicidal. Ripley then flees Rome.
Tom meets Peter in Venice. Peter says there’s a rumour Dickie murdered Tom and is travelling under Tom’s passport. A new inspector presents the typed letter they found in Rome, effectively Dickie’s suicide note.
Marge arrives, with Dickie’s father following soon. Herbert’s American private detective, Alvin MacCarron, already knows that Dickie cashed cheques for $1,000 the day before he killed himself.
Marge and Peter wake Tom from a murderer’s nightmare. Tom gives Peter a house key to come back later. When Marge wonders why Tom would have Dickie’s rings, he gathers a razor blade. In his bathrobe, Tom tells Marge he loves her — his hand hidden in his pocket. She calls him a liar and Peter arrives. Tom gripping the razor blade in his pocket has now drawn blood. He storms off, pretending to be exasperated with Marge. When she leaves, Peter carefully dresses Tom’s wound.
Tom meets Herbert Greenleaf and Alvin MacCarron. Tom says he completely forgot about the rings. Luckily for Tom, Herbert thinks Marge is hysterical. Dickie once half-killed another boy at Princeton, kicking him in the head and putting him in hospital — which is why Dickie was sent to Italy.
Alvin says he’s knows Tom Ripley worked as a piano tuner in Princeton’s music department. He also knows the drowned girl from Mongibello was pregnant by Dickie. Tom keeping these explosive secrets is appreciated. For his silence, Herbert will transfer a good portion of Dickie’s income into Tom’s name.
On a boat to Athens, Tom is cloying with Peter. Meredith is onboard and recognises Ripley — as being Dickie. He says he’s been hiding in police custody to flush out Freddie’s killer. Tom suggests they meet up again later and kisses her tenderly. When Tom returns to his cabin, he wants to stay there with Peter til they reach Greece.
Peter asks if Tom was kissing Meredith Logue on deck. When Tom provides a labyrinthine explanation, Peter admits he’s completely lost. Tom empathises, then apologises. Tom says he’s lost and that he’s stuck in the basement. Terrible and alone and dark. Tom says he lied about who he is and where he is. Now, no-one will ever find him. Peter wonders what Tom means when he says he’s lied about who he is.
Tom always thought it was better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody. Peter contests these statements. Tom asks to hear some good things about Tom Ripley, while discreetly preparing a ligature behind Peter’s back.
Tom is talented.
Tom is tender.
Tom is beautiful.
Tom is a mystery.
Tom is not a nobody.
Tom strangles Peter and goes into another cabin — where he is alone.
Starring Matt Damon. Gwyneth Paltrow. Jude Law. Rated 15. Dir Anthony Minghella. Released in the UK 1999. Runtime 2hrs 19mins