Ripley TV Review

Andrew Scott plays a calculating and manipulative criminal in this lush adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novels.

Plot: Tom Ripley, a grifter scraping by in early 1960s New York, is hired by a wealthy man to travel to Italy to try to convince his vagabond son to return home. Tom’s acceptance of the job is the first step into a complex life of deceit, fraud and murder. The drama series is based on Patricia Highsmith’s bestselling Tom Ripley novels.

Review: The 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley was a critical and commercial success with a cast of hot new talent, including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Directed by the late Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley adapted the first novel featuring the charismatic title criminal but spawned two less successful sequels, Ripley’s Game, starring John Malkovich, and Ripley Under Ground, starring Barry Pepper. Acclaimed screenwriter Steven Zaillian has returned to the first book for his eight-part limited series Ripley, featuring Andrew Scott in the lead role. A slow-burn thriller that takes a much different tone and feel compared to the three prior adaptations, Ripley is a beautifully shot drama that will have you questioning whether Tom Ripley is a psychopath or something even more sinister. Ripley is fantastic, featuring Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn, and Eliot Sumner.

Filmed in black and white, Ripley opens in New York City, where Tom Ripley (Andrew Scott) makes ends meet by forging checks and committing mail fraud. Keeping his activities low-key, Tom is approached by a private investigator on behalf of shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf. Thinking Tom is a close friend of his son, Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), Herbert offers him a stipend to travel to Italy and convince Dickie to return home. Sensing a chance to make some substantial money, Tom accepts and heads across the Atlantic. Setting up a meeting with Dickie and his girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning), Tom pretends to be a former acquaintance and ingratiates himself with the young couple. As Tom begins to like living the life of a wealthy expatriate, his diabolical sensibilities take over and lead to identity theft and even murder. While the 1999 film condensed these elements into just over two hours, Ripley shows us who Tom Ripley is and accentuates his sociopathic tendencies as he shifts from harmless to very dangerous.

Ripley‘s core plot and structure are closer to Highsmith’s 1955 novel than the 1999 movie. In the film, the homosexual undertones were not subtle in the least and factored into the plot substantially. Here, whether Tom Ripley is gay is referenced but is no longer a driving element of the plot. By taking sexuality out of the mix and making Tom’s obsession with Dickie more sinister, Steve Zaillian’s series allows Andrew Scott to channel Tom’s chameleon-like skills as he mimics Dickie’s mannerisms, signature, and even his physical appearance. The series also changes Dickie Greenleaf from the film where Jude Law played him as a cad and a playboy who was stringing Marge along. Here, Dickie is carefree and enjoys his European solitude, and is very welcoming to Tom. That changed relationship makes their final confrontation much different than in the film. It also showcases the exacting and precise thinking that Tom Ripley employs in his criminal actions, which is made all the more disturbing in the extended series format. Andrew Scott’s deliberate and subdued approach to playing Tom Ripley is enthralling to watch, especially in the third and fifth episodes of the series, which feature extended sequences without any dialogue.

Ripley review

In addition to the main characters, Ripley also features Eliot Sumner as Freddie Miles, taking over for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. In the 1999 film, Hoffman portrayed Freddie as a lout and bon vivant who instantly has an acrimonious relationship with Tom. Here, Sumner, the child of Sting (aka Gordon Sumber) only appears in a limited number of sequences but immediately comes across as more of a quiet foil for Tom rather than an in-your-face nemesis. The scenes shared between Scott and Sumner unfold like a chess match, with each character choosing their words and moves very carefully. There is also an appearance from John Malkovich, who previously played Tom on screen, in a key role that I will not spoil here. The predominant supporting cast comprises Italian natives with the series taking place almost entirely between Naples and Rome, with the main actors speaking both English and Italian.

All eight episodes of Ripley were written and directed by Steve Zaillian. An accomplished and award-winning screenwriter, Zaillian is responsible for Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, American Gangster, and The Irishman, with directing credits on Searching for Bobby Fischer, A Civil Action, and 2006’s All The King’s Men. On the small screen, Zaillian wrote and directed the fantastic HBO series The Night Of, but Ripley is his masterpiece. The black-and-white photography accentuates the European locales lenses by There Will Be Blood cinematographer Robert Elswit. There are motifs aplenty throughout the film, with recurring shots that recall everything from The Third Man to Psycho. The crisp scenes are haunting and reminiscent of the series’ callbacks to the chiaroscuro art of Caravaggio. There are also a few color moments, a connection to Schindler’s List, that are perfectly placed through the series and enhanced by Jeff Russo’s score. The music also includes numerous songs from the 1940s through the 1960s, recreating the mid-twentieth century in a fashion unlike many other series.

Ripley is easily one of the year’s best series and yet another triumph for Andrew Scott. The actor has stolen the show in everything from Sherlock to Fleabag and last year’s All Of Us Strangers, but Scott makes Tom Ripley his own, unlike any other actor working today. At 47, Scott easily passes for ten to twenty years younger and is chillingly good in this performance. Whether it be the subtext in his dialogue, the way he carries scenes without a single spoken word or the sly hint of a smile on the corners of his mouth, Andrew Scott echoes everything from Anthony Perkins to Laurence Olivier. This limited series is eight episodes long. I am sure viewers will be divided on whether it is paced too slowly or if they want more of this tale. Still, I found Ripley to be wonderfully and intricately constructed, with every episode an hour-long treat thanks to Steve Zaillain’s wonderful script and insightful direction. Ripley is a character study wrapped in a thriller wrapped in a mystery and one that I will not soon forget.

Ripley premieres on April 4th on Netflix.

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