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OPINION: 'Saltburn' vs 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'

Both are award-nominated films – but one is obviously better

Oliver Quick (top left) lounging on a beach chair, staring at Felix Catton at the Saltburn estate next to a drawing of Tom Ripley shyly smiling at Dickie Greenleaf and Marge Sherwood (bottom right). The images reflect both Oliver's (“Saltburn”) and Tom’s (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”) subtle obsession with the main characters, which would later take a dark turn. // Illustration by Sam Fozard

In early December, my roommates and I decided to watch the movie “Saltburn” in theaters. After we endured the infamous nude dancing scene and the credits rolled, my roommate Olivia stood up and said disappointedly, “that movie was literally ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ but worse.”

That comment led me to watch said movie, directed by the late Anthony Minghella and released in 1999. The star-studded cast instantly drew me in, featuring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The plot was suspenseful and engaging, following Damon’s character Tom Ripley. He intentionally befriends Law’s character Dickie Greenleaf and their relationship takes a dark turn.

The set, which was filmed in various locations in Italy, the immaculate costuming and original soundtrack, all came together to support one of the best movie plots I’ve seen in a long time.

After “The Talented Mr. Ripley” ended, I understood what Olivia meant. While “Saltburn” was a good film, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” was a great one.

Felicia Cosey, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Western Washington University, described the similarities between the main characters of the two plots. 

“Well, you have a character who is an outsider, working class, who wants to move into the upper class and gain entry into this environment that they don't have permission to belong,” Cosey said. “Then you have both characters going to extremes to prevent the revelation that they are basically fakers or imposters.”

Another notable similarity between the films is the one-sided, obsessive feelings the main characters have for the bourgeoise male leads.  

“‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ is truly about I want to become this person. I am actually going to dress in his clothes and all of that stuff,” Cosey said. “That’s why I wonder if ‘Saltburn’ fails as opposed to ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’… ‘Saltburn,’ it's [homoeroticism] for shock value. It wants to play up that sexual element.”

Many parts in “Saltburn” left audiences, including myself, gaping at the screen, such as the bathtub and graveyard scenes. 

What I ask those who have seen the movie to call into question is: are those scenes really necessary? The scenes fail to portray a nuanced relationship between Oliver and Felix and instead are just unpleasantly shocking to the viewers.

In comparison, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” does a fantastic job of emphasizing Tom Ripley’s growing obsession and feelings for Dickie.

Damon executes this with his character Tom Ripley, through intentional, heated glances, leaning his head on an asleep Dickie’s shoulder, trying on Dickie’s clothes and even asking if he can join Dickie in the bathtub. 

When discussing the two movies with my roommates Zoe and Yasmine –  both firmly on team “Saltburn” – they argued that its cinematography and soundtrack are better.

“Saltburn’s” cinematography emphasized color to convey different feelings. For example, there are playful summer scenes where all the lead actors are lounging in a field or by a lake, versus gloomier and moodier Oxford scenes.

Director Emerald Fennell also utilized character close-ups to highlight the actors’ emotions.

It’s undeniable that “Saltburn” has good cinematography and a soundtrack with multiple hits. Its biggest hit, “Murder on the Dancefloor” by Sophie Ellis-Bextor was streamed 1.5 million times on Spotify during New Year’s Eve. This was a 340% increase compared to the prior year, 2023, according to Variety

Yet in my roommate Olivia’s blunt words, “If that’s all Emerald Fennell is good at, then she should direct music videos.”

“I feel like Emerald Fennell really relied a lot on aesthetics and soundtrack rather than focusing on the writing,” Bellingham resident Elvira Bradley said. “Whenever it comes to movies, the writing should be really valued because no matter how good an actor is, no matter how great the cinematography is, if the writing is bleak, or amateur or rushed, you can tell.”

The plot of “Saltburn” falls noticeably short in a way that “The Talented Mr. Ripley” doesn’t.

“‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ is the much better narrative experience,” said Thomas Stoneham-Judge, founder and editor-in-chief of For Reel. “I do think that ‘Saltburn’ has a lot of excellent technical prowess. I just think the narrative of ‘Saltburn’ gets a little muddled. I feel like ‘Saltburn’ has too many objectives in the story and they don't mesh.”

From commentary on class divides, to a story about obsession and lies, to a poorly written ‘who done it?’ “Saltburn” has a lot going on in a way that makes the movie seem like multiple plots clumsily thrown together.

Meanwhile, the plot of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” grabs ahold of viewers and takes them on a thrilling journey of deceit and desire. The entire movie is an ever-growing snowball of shocking murders and near captures. 

Unlike “Saltburn,” there was no attempted plot twist. We didn’t need a big reveal because we watched Tom Ripley’s manipulations and murders firsthand. We witnessed what went through his mind as he carried out such actions.

My belief is that a movie cannot be great without a well-written plot. 

Using artistry, cinematography and spontaneous big reveals as a blanket to cover poor writing should not become the new norm for films. 

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” has it all: the visuals, award-nominated acting and an elaborate plot that takes hold of its viewers until the credits roll. In the “Saltburn” vs “The Talented Mr. Ripley” debate, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is simply the better movie.

Janisa Cook

Janisa Cook (she/her) is an opinions reporter for The Front this quarter. She is also on Western's women’s rowing team. In her free time, she likes to paint, go to coffee shops, and hang out with her roommates. You can reach her at

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