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'Ripley' soundtrack has great music, touch of magic

Music From the Motion Picture 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'
Music From the Motion Picture 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'
By various artists

Sony Classical: 1999

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This review first appeared in the March 10, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

Born during the heyday of the Broadway musical, the soundtrack of late has deteriorated into a vehicle for selling compilations of the latest hits. In fact, many soundtracks now include the caveat of "Music from and inspired by ..." meaning that there may be songs on the disc that don't even appear anywhere in the film.

The soundtrack to the recent film, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," is more traditional in that the songs on this collection all came from the film. While not a greatest hits collection like many soundtracks, it is surprisingly listenable – perhaps because music played such a huge role in the film, both for character development and to capture the dark, noir mood of Patricia Highsmith's novel on which the movie was based.

If there's a weakness here, it's that the film's best musical moment leads the disc off. The raucous "Tu Vuo' Fa L'Americano" is a danceable piece hearkening back to the 1950s, where the movie is set. The mixture of Italian folk and American jazz instrumentation is a pretty good summation of the rest of the soundtrack, too.

But Matt Damon's much heralded reading of "My Funny Valentine" doesn't stand up as well on the stereo as on the screen. In the context of the film, it was pure magic, as the psychopathic Tom Ripley showed he could assume the characteristics of nearly anyone – even the late jazz trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker. With the context of that scene removed, well, Damon just doesn't have the pipes to carry it off.

The other notable highlight here is Sinead O'Connor's incredible reading of "Lullaby for Cain," co-written by the film's producer, Anthony Minghella, and the main composer of the soundtrack, Gabriel Yared. It is one of the most haunting songs in recent memory – perfectly fit for the film, it also stands on its own and shows what O'Connor is capable of when given truly top-rate material.

The soundtrack also contains some wonderful jazz – historic tracks by Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, as well as some pretty good bop and straight-ahead tracks by the Guy Barker International Quintet (including a version of "Moanin'" nearly as good as Art Blakey's original).

There is also another Italian song, "Guaglione," and the balance of Yared's orchestral score, which stands up quite nicely as classical music.

Finally, the liner notes by the film's producer, Anthony Minghella, explain why he had Dickie Greenleaf become a budding jazz musician rather than the aspiring artist Highsmith had made him in the novel (a difference which had to bug anyone who read the Ripley books before seeing the film). Minghella explains, quite simply, that he felt music would work better in the medium of film.

And it sure makes for a better CD.