Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Rabbi Nilton Bonder calls it "the most abstract form of rage." When we're obsessed with what we don't have, we're like vampires feeding off the vitality of others. In his follow-up to the Academy-Award winning The English Patient, writer and director Anthony Minghella has adapted Patricia Highsmith's murder-mystery for the screen. It is a rigorous moral study of envy.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a piano accompanist in New York who holds down a series of odd jobs. He basically has no life of his own. When Tom falsely tells Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn), a shipbuilding tycoon, that he knew his son Dickie (Jude Law) at Princeton, the multi-millionaire gives him a thousand dollars and a first-class ticket to Italy to retrieve his prodigal son. This cocky golden boy is living in a seaside town near Naples with his girlfriend, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), a writer. They find Tom amusing, and the three of them spend the summer together. Dickie is especially pleased to have a companion who seems to love jazz as much as he does.

Actually, Tom is faking this, along with a lot else. This outsider is envious of Dickie — his class, his clothes and jewelry, and his ability to take whatever he wants or needs. Sexual attraction is also part of the pleasure Tom feels in his presence. However, all that vanishes in a moment of rage when Dickie calls him a leech and a bore. Tom bludgeons him to death on a boat far from shore, then hides his body.

The prophet Muhammad once said: "Keep yourselves far from envy because it eats up and takes away good actions as fire consumes and burns wood." The rest of The Talented Mr. Ripley deals with the murderer's cat-and-mouse games with European police, the highly suspicious Marge, and an American detective. Among the unfortunate souls who get caught up in the net of Tom's eventual impersonation of Dickie are Freddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a cynical American; Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett), a rich heiress abroad; and Peter (Jack Davenport), a gay musician. Envy is a fire that consumes and, in the end, not even Tom's creative improvisations can keep him from self-hate, constant nightmares, and a loneliness that grows deeper day by day.