The Talented Mr. Ripley (*** ˝) – Don’t you want to be liked? Doesn’t everyone? I believe that people are misinterpreting the title character of this film as a straight-up villain. Here is a guy, while being deceptive at times, mostly harmless, who just wants to be wanted. And when his emotions get the best of him, only then does he overreact, accidently, and then is forced to cover his tracks the best he can, trying to leave everything about the old him there was behind. And Tom Ripley’s journey through this film is absolutely spellbinding.Matt Damon pulls off what is, arguably, the best performance of his career. Juggling deceptiveness and pathos, he becomes a somewhat sympathetic villain, one we hope gets away with his crimes. Jude Law also nicely handles a tricky role as the rich playboy who can be your best friend one moment and a total stranger the next. Gwyneth Paltrow has the least juiciest role of the film, but handles it believably and has us understanding her behavior in every scene. While many people praised director Anthony Minghella for his previous Oscar-winning effort, The English Patient, I wasn’t about to hitch my wagon to that star. But it wasn’t so much Minghella’s direction I had a problem with, but the character of Count De Almasy who was too much of a bastard to care about his fate. Minghella really proves himself here by not only being able to create atmosphere (his best trait about The English Patient) but by progressing the story over time, we become active participants on either side of the law. Like the best of thrillers, the suspense builds naturally through our identification with the main character leading to an ending that is both shocking and sad. Some audience members may be put back by much of the homoerotic undertone of the film, but unlike some other films (Gods and Monsters), these situations are handled very subtly and never shoves it down the audience’s throat. No pun intended.The Talented Mr. Ripley joins a small list of films this year that knows how to tell a good story. It’s a simple story on the surface, but by allowing the story to grow through its characters and carefully-plotted details into sort of a Shakespearean Hitchcock film, it creates one of the most mesmerizing and thrilling films of the year.