Ripley is Exactly the Series Its Iconic Anti-Hero Deserves

Andrew Scott shines in a nightmarish noir that wisely, painfully takes its time.

Andrew Scott in 'Ripley'
Inverse Reviews

Ripley creator Steven Zaillian is a master of minutiae. Throughout his career, from Schindler's List and Searching for Bobby Fischer to The Night Of and The Irishman, the multi-hyphenate screenwriter and director has proven himself uniquely adept at building stories not only out of the most minute of details but also exploring the inner lives of characters whose journeys are often determined by the smallest possible decisions and moments. Take a look at his credits and you'll realize that there's almost no one more well-suited to bringing a grifter and murderer like Tom Ripley to life onscreen.

Lo and behold, the filmmaker is in complete control of Ripley across its eight episodes. The new Netflix miniseries is the longest adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's classic 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and also the coldest. While it lacks the sensuality and queer angst of Anthony Minghella's 1999 Matt Damon-led film adaptation and the sun-soaked sexiness of Purple Noon, Ripley's miniseries format gives it something none of its predecessors truly had: time. Ripley's eight hours specifically affords it the time it needs to depict, in agonizing detail, every step its determined protagonist makes on his desperate, blood-speckled climb up the world's economic ladder.

Following a succinct flash-forward involving a dead body and a midnight attempt at disposing of it, Ripley begins in 1960s New York. It follows Tom Ripley (All of Us Strangers star Andrew Scott), a hustler and conman barely getting by on check fraud and minor scams, who receives a once-in-a-lifetime offer from Herbert Greenleaf (Manchester by the Sea writer-director Kenneth Lonergan), the wealthy head of a New York shipping company. Herbert and his wife are desperate to get their son, Dickie (Johnny Flynn), to come home and stop living an overly leisurely life on his monthly trust fund payments in Italy. In exchange for an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe and a new wardrobe haul, Herbert asks Tom, whom he believes to be a friend of Dickie's, to seek his son out and convince him to leave his European relocation behind.

Tom, anxious to get even just a taste of some kind of wealthy lifestyle, eagerly accepts Herbert's proposal. Shortly thereafter, he meets up with Dickie and his longtime girlfriend, Marge (Dakota Fanning), in their favorite coastal Italian town. The longer he stays with Dickie, though, the more drawn to him and his easy life of inherited wealth Tom becomes. Before long, he's set in a series of events and dangerous gambits that could, if he manages to play all of his cards right, give him permanent access to the relaxed existence that he's long desired. Along the way, he finds himself forced to contend with not only a justifiably suspicious Marge but also Freddie Miles (Eliot Sumner), one of Dickie's wealthy friends, and Pietro Ravini (Maurizio Lombardi), an inquisitive police inspector who ends up investigating one of Tom's many crimes.

Those who have read Highsmith's original novel, seen any of its previous adaptations, or are even remotely familiar with its eponymous character won't be surprised by the overall arc of Ripley's story. Zaillian, who wrote and directed every episode of the series, has produced a largely faithful adaptation of Ripley's source material. The show rarely deviates from the path set nearly 70 years ago by Highsmith, and instead mines most of its power from sitting as long as possible in the moments before and after Tom commits one of his crimes. Ripley is, above all else, a process thriller — it painstakingly stretches out and depicts each brilliant decision and careless, impulsive mistake that Scott's ambitious murderer makes.

In Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning) and Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), Tom Ripley (Andrew Scott) finds a path into the world of inherited, superficial wealth that he’s long coveted.


It's in these instances of forgery, murder, deception, and elaborate staging that Zaillian, one of the greatest show-don't-tell writers alive, truly excels. Scott's Ripley isn't prone to the same emotional outbursts as Matt Damon's 1999 version of the character. You learn more about him from the things he does rather than what he says. There are long stretches of time where Tom says virtually nothing, but just watches, paces, savors, or cleans, and you learn more about the way his mind works, the intensity of his desperation, the sharpness of his intellect, and the limited scope of his perspective from these moments than any monologue or pained scream could ever tell you.

Ripley's more methodical approach to its story could have rendered it dull were it not for Zaillian's skill and the commanding nature of Andrew Scott's lead performance. The actor beautifully finds a middle ground between Matt Damon's tortured iteration of Tom Ripley and Alain Delon's coolly smug turn as the character in Purple Noon — giving a performance that is simultaneously icy and insecure. He achieves a kind of stillness in Ripley that complements Zaillian's quieter direction and adds fascinating complexity to the character's often reactionary, violent behavior. His Tom is visibly and emotionally beaten down when Ripley begins, and that not only adds to the oddly underdog quality of the character that has existed since his creation but also makes his overwhelming loneliness and bitterness even more palpable.

At times, the constantly muted pitch of both Scott's performance and Ripley threatens to send the series spiraling into monotony. For some, it may even dip into that territory in more than a few instances. Zaillian frequently finds new ways to increase the tension of Ripley's story without jarringly turning the volume up or straying too far away from its established tone, style, and pace. His direction and Robert Elswit's black-and-white cinematography also give the series an otherworldly, painterly aesthetic that makes it seem alternately dreamy and nightmarish. In its finale, Zaillian additionally throws in an unexpected narrative detour that elevates Ripley's Venice-set climactic chapter to strikingly gothic heights and helps it reach a stylistic peak that is more satisfying to experience than you might expect.

In Ripley, everything both is and isn’t exactly as it seems.


Before it premiered, it may not have seemed like there was much need for Ripley. Not only has its source material been repeatedly ripped off over the years (see: last year's Saltburn), but it has also been adapted successfully several times already. However, by the time everything is said and done in its eight-episode season, Ripley has staked its claim as yet another worthwhile take on Highsmith's universally adored literary thriller. It does so by stripping its story and its protagonist as bare as it can — repainting its romantic midcentury European backdrop as a monochromatic world of shadows, light, and endless alleyways and Tom Ripley himself as an embittered, wounded animal who knows how to both devour his enemies and lick their bones clean.

At no point does the series shine more than in one mid-season episode that dedicates the majority of its runtime to Tom's strenuous, circular efforts to cover up his latest murder. The episode, as patiently paced and darkly funny as any other you'll likely see this year, follows Tom as he wipes up his victim's blood, drags their dead body down a flight of stairs, and stages a new version of their demise before retracing his steps multiple times to make sure he hasn't missed anything. It's an hour of television that is as horrifying as it is magical to witness, and the same can be said for Ripley itself.

All eight episodes of Ripley are streaming now on Netflix.

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