TV Review – Ripley

It’s a recipe for success. Take a critically renowned series of crime-thriller novels from Patricia Highsmith, have them adapted for the screen by Oscar winning screenwriter Steven Zallian, and cast one of the best dramatic actors working today in Andrew Scott (All of Us Strangers) as the lead role. And what do you get? Netflix’s latest binge-worthy series, Ripley.

Obsession, betrayal, fraud, and murder are all thematic foundations for this stylistic and thrilling adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the consecutive novels that followed, centring around Tom Ripley (Scott), a desperate con-artist in 1960s New York who is barely surviving on fraudulently cashed cheques that he acquires through a fake debt collection service.

Opportunity strikes in the most unexpected way for Ripley when he is approached by a shipyard owner who believes Ripley went to college with his estranged son, Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), who is currently away in Italy with no real prospects of returning home.

Offered a generous salary and all-expenses paid travel to the beautiful beachside villas of Italy, Ripley is requested to bring Dickie home by any means necessary. However, after befriending Dickie, his lavish lifestyle of high-end fashion, delicious food, and no financial worry appeals very much so to Ripley, who entangles himself in a web of deceit and lies to steal away the life he’s always dreamed of having.

Writing and directing all eight episodes of this mini-series, Steven Zallian’s attention to detail in adapting (and in some cases, updating) Patricia Highsmith’s novels to both paper and screen makes for truly engaging television, right from the opening moments. Zallian’s decision to play the series out in a full-framed, black-and-white allows him to utilise light in a striking manner, often to juxtapose the tonal jumps within the story.

In New York, where Ripley is constantly in a high state of paranoia, seemingly waiting for his house of fraudulent cards to cave in, the dark, dankness of the lighting and cinematography is completely immersive into the mindset of Ripley. However, the over-exposed brightness of Italy’s sunshining days then brings forth the potential of a new life, a new start, a brighter future.

Every frame of Zallian’s direction feels so deliberate. Ripley is an incredibly stylistic looking series that plays with framing expertly to evoke the feeling of the subject in frame. But it also captures the vast beauty of Italy, showcasing the monumental villas with such grandiose scale, or the beaches with such salty, shimmering beauty. The appeal of a new life for Ripley is not hard to imagine with direction like this.

Zallian also plays around with non-traditional filmmaking techniques, like having characters read the letters sent to each other directly to camera, almost conversationally with the recipients, which adds even more emotional context to pivotal moments throughout. It’s unique and engaging moments like this that heighten the entertainment factor of the series.

However, as appealing as the life Ripley wants to pursue looks, it doesn’t come with out thrills and tension. Patience is the virtue of this retelling of Tom Ripley’s story, and Zallian uses the eight episodes to build up relationships and the tension between them very well. Blending brilliant passive-aggressive conversations filled with character ambiguity often enhances the mystery and motives of not just Ripley, but those around him too.

What truly brings this all to life is the once again outstanding lead performance from Andrew Scott. Recent Oscar snubbing aside, Scott feels like he is continually ascending to his acting peak, and Ripley is another rung on the way to the top. The complexities of Tom Ripley as a character as truly fascinating to digest through Scott’s performance.

Balancing nuance with theatre style showmanship, Scott is enigmatic in every single scene he is in. For a character who so heavily entrenches themselves into their self-dug grave, the amount of sympathy that can be argued to be had for Ripley is a testament to Scott’s ability to portray Ripley’s desperation and fight to just survive, despite his means of income being criminal. Then, as the lure of more luxury, money, and status brings the starry-eyed Ripley in, the levels of desperation turn sinister, and at points, confronting and terrifying to watch.

The supporting cast, primarily consisting of Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf, Dakota Fanning as Marge, and Maurizio Lombardi as Inspector Ravini all bring a distinct dramatic flair that continually builds the tension within the story. Every character’s simmering distrust of the elusive Tom Ripley consistently sharpens the edge of uncertainty as to whether Ripley is going to finally be caught out, or what lengths he will go to for that not to happen.

Ripley is a visually engaging, stylistic, and tense adaptation of the various stories Patricia Highsmith created about elusive con-artist Tom Ripley. Steven Zallian’s writing perfectly and continually builds tension each episode, while his purposeful and deliberate direction adds more layers of complexity to the characters and story, all topped off with another brilliant performance by Andrew Scott, to equate in a series that will demand you to hit ‘Next Episode’ each time it pops up on your TV screen.

All eight episodes of Ripley are available on Netflix from April 4.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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It’s a recipe for success. Take a critically renowned series of crime-thriller novels from Patricia Highsmith, have them adapted for the screen by Oscar winning screenwriter Steven Zallian, and cast one of the best dramatic actors working today in Andrew Scott (All of Us...TV Review - Ripley