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Ripley

Netflix, April 4, 2024

May 08, 2024 Photography by Stefano Cristiano Montesi/Netflix Web Exclusive
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Matt Damon made Tom Ripley look talented in the 1999 film, The Talented Mr. Ripley. But the vindictive, conniving con man comes across as a much better hang when portrayed by Andrew Scott in Ripley, the new Netflix adaptation.

ion of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 crime novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley.The series comes 25 years after the Damon-starring hit movie and finds Scott (best known as the “hot priest” from Fleabag) grinning in mischievous glee in a key scene after he schemes his way into occupying an opulent apartment. Ripley is also hilariously snarkier this go around, and more prone to suspense-building mistakes, while the broad, perennial plot that Highsmith first wrote generations ago remains intact. She broke ground by penning an ahead-of-its-time class-conscious anti-hero story about a grifter, who worms his way into the life of the affluent Dickie Greenleaf, portrayed by Johnny Flynn. Ripley first covets Greenleaf’s wealth and glamorous lifestyle in Italy, then falls for Dickie himself, until homoerotically charged violence erupts between the two. The prevailing Ripley steals Greenleaf’s identity, to the dismay of Dickie’s fiancé Marge, played by a shallow and acidic Dakota Fanning, who gives the best take on the part yet, rivaling Scott as the most memorable aspect of this essential new rendition.

Like the 1999 film and the preceding 1960 French iteration Purple Noon (a cult classic and Criterion Collection favorite) Ripley the series is faithful to key scenes from the novel. But it continually puts inventive twists on them, silencing gripes about yet another remake. Prime example: a confrontation between the eponymous anti-hero and Dickie’s slick pal Freddie, who is suspicious of the comparatively schlubby Tom from the get-go. Philip Seymour Hoffman stole every scene he was in as a showboat-y, fratty Freddie in the film, casting a long shadow over emerging talent Eliot Sumner in the series. But Sumner gamely and admirably puts their own spin on the part, opting for pensiveness and smoldering skepticism as they size Ripley up. The fact that Sumner happens to be non-binary is not addressed. Leaving that aspect unspoken gives Sumner’s scenes an additional complexity and ambiguity, and is a fresh twist on the queer elements of prior Highsmith adaptations. Everyone in this version calls Sumner’s character male, and once the police come sniffing, Ripley insinuates that Freddie’s supposed homosexuality might give him a motive to unrequitedly kill Dickie. This helps the series speak to sadly ever-relevant social themes that help make it a richly complex adaptation.

The police, meanwhile, are also drawn more compellingly in this series adaptation. Maurizio Lombardi is a standout as Inspector Pietro Ravini, a razor-sharp astute detective who always appears poised to clinch Ripley, mid-scheme, only for the slippery grifter to defy the odds for the umpteenth time. And yet, this Ripley is as lucky as he is talented, fumbling his way through forgeries, murders, and covering up the corpses. That’s part of the fun, especially when Scott convincingly gawks in despair at blood that he neglected to clean up from a recent murder, before concealing it in the nick of time.

Ripley forgoes the sensory overload and over-the-top performances that are bogging down much of the television landscape. Creator/writer/director Steven Zaillian shoots Ripley in minimalist black and white and with a Swiss watchmaker’s attention to detail. The lack of color makes the gore in murderous Mr. Ripley’s bathtub difficult to distinguish from the water he’s afraid to drown in. That’s especially true when Dickie insists on taking him out on boat rides or for swims at one gorgeous Italian beach after the next.

Although Zaillian is an iconic Hollywood screenwriter who earned Oscar nominations for penning Moneyball, Awakenings, and Schindler’s List (winning for the latter), he’s had an equally exciting second act as a TV director. He helmed one of HBO’s best-ever miniseries, The Night Of, shooting it with a meticulousness that rivals his work on Ripley. He captures the griminess of the New York flophouses and diners that the protagonist oscillates between, before snagging the chance to visit Italy and beckon the layabout Dickie home at his father’s behest. Zaillian takes equal advantage of the Italy scenes, shooting exchanges between Ripley and Dickie next to Roman ruins as if their doomed love story was an ancient tragedy, or poring over Baroque paintings that the ruthlessly upwardly mobile Ripley finally has a chance to see after so many years on New York’s margins.

Above all, Zaillian will grip you with props of the era, filming locks and letterboxes closeup and making each clank and click of their analogue mechanics resound. An elevator in the apartment that Ripley finagles under Dickie’s name is an especially gripping set piece, as its primitive gears grind and sputter while our less-than-glamorous protagonist uses it to drag grisly evidence from the scene of his latest crime. Better still: the confrontation on a boat between Dickie and Ripley. In Purple Noon, practical effects and acrobatic shooting made Dickie’s attempts to humiliate Tom with his superior sailing skills an action sequence well ahead of its time. Zaillian makes Dickie more humane as he lets Ripley down gently. The action ratchets past what was possible in Purple Noon’s era, as Tom and Dickie grapple and then Tom nearly loses control of the boat in a thrilling set piece involving its ravenous propeller, burdensome anchor, and those inky, colorless watery depths that Zallian shoots with such cold remove. In hindsight, the scene is far-fetched. In the moment, however, it has enough thrills to make you feel every throb of Ripley’s panicked heart.

Zaillian’s direction of less climactic scenes takes some getting used to. At times he seems lost in the weeds of capturing every detail of the clutter on a character’s desk, grating pen strokes as signatures are forged, or the purring machinery of one antique or another that Ripley or Dickie might be fiddling with. If you’re binging the series too quickly, these scenes might seem plodding. Give it time and the proper attention, though, and Zaillian will lull you into every nook and cranny of his masterful set design. Call it the thinking person’s ASMR. Even when Ripley’s plot becomes glacially paced, you’ll want to immerse yourself in this shadowy, color free, intriguing bygone setting thanks to the pinpoint-precise direction and sound effects.

The acting and writing somehow rival that loftily ambitious aesthetic, at least for two particular characters in the closing episodes. Though Ripley drags at times early in its run (or at least until you’re accustomed to its distinctive rhythm), its back end never ceases to entertain as a grieving Marge interjects at the lavish Venice mansion Ripley has weaseled into his possession. Their bitchy banter will make you giggle and give you chills, thanks to both Zaillian’s dagger-sharp writing and, more still, Scott’s and Fanning’s deft delivery of the gallows humor.

This methodically made and acted series isn’t just a throwback to the paperback thriller era of its source material— Ripley feels timeless, and, as such, refreshingly timely. (www.netflix.com/ripley)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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