‘Ripley’ Series Review: A Force of Nature

Ripley is the latest adaptation of Talented Mr. Ripleythis time starring Andrew Scott in the lead role; as Tom Ripley, a man who is introduced to Dickie Greenleaf’s leisurely lifestyle and quickly gets under his skin and eventually kills him – taking over his identity in a bid to become Greenleaf. It’s a queer tale of obsession, lust, and desire, gorgeously shot in black and white by Steven Zaillian, drawing from Patricia Highsmith’s material as a source of inspiration.

Powerful chemistry between Andrew Scott and Johnny Flynn in Ripley

The chemistry between Scott and Johnny Flynn is powerful, and you can see why someone like Dickie would be drawn to the oddity of Ripley, who’s initially hired by Dickie’s father to convince him to come back to America. But Dickie likes his lifestyle, a failed writer who doesn’t write, a painter who can’t paint, a man of many talents who can’t commit to any at all.

It’s set in 1961 and the backdrop for this takes place in Atrani but quickly moves about, Cortina, Rome – spectacularly shot with Steven Zaillian doing double duty on camera and screenplay for all eight episodes. It moves with a sense of deliberate purpose and control; taking its time to get underway – Ripley is a force of nature – who is the real Dickie Greenleaf? The show quickly becomes about Ripley’s desire to become him; having caught up in a murder incident where the conspiracy takes a radically darker turn halfway through.

A return to noir

There are strong links to Caravaggio here and his work can be seen constantly throughout the show. Paintings are a source of wealthy obsession due to their status and Ripley doesn’t shy away from going all out. This isn’t a murder mystery about how Ripley commits the crimes and then gets caught; it’s a show about how he gets away with the crimes and the thrill is watching him do that – there was an argument recently on social media that noir is an all-but dead genre and that is very much not the case with Ripleywhich shows that it can be kicking and screaming – with Dakota Fanning stepping into the role as the femme fatale; Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge – and the foil for Ripley. Ripley develops an obsession for Dickie and it’s clear that it’s one-sided – tired of Marge, drawn to Dickie – his social circle and relationship is quickly collapsing around them.

Ripley’s influences can be found everywhere in the genre, there are traces of Hannibal, there are clues of You. Andrew Scott may be older than the man but he has all of the skills and charisma of someone at odds with society, matched up with Matt Damon, Alain Delon and Dennis Hopper – it’s no small degree of talent to compete with. And compete with Scott does; offering up maybe the best take on the character that we’ve seen so far – it’s amazing at the ease that Ripley manipulates his way around Marge’s powerlessness, and outfoxes Maurizio Lombardi’s Ravini, a fearsomely tenacious inspector, and gets himself out of trouble by murdering Freddie Miles, in a cruel, shockingly blunt way.

Ripley’s obsessions

It’s Eliot Sumner who brings out the most obvious queer subtext in Ripley and delivers a stirringly camp portrayal of a character who is unfortunately caught up in Ripley’s obsession. It’s all a game to him – and Ripley has the advantage of not being set in the current era – so can easily navigate his way around the world without the worry of being found – ever the chameleon; The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of those rare books that you can’t really imagine a modern-day version of due to how grounded in the past it is, how less reliant on technology.

He has a headstart on the police, knowing that they won’t catch up to him – and it is through this that we learn his methodological, sinister, and incredibly calculated process; what is the end game for Ripley here? To become Dickie? It’s fascinating to watch this draw so much from the Hitchcockian, after all, Strangers on a Train was a Highsmith – Rope also, the queer undertones running through like a current.

But also, there’s a tad of Interview with the Vampirea dysfunctional relationship between two men; obsession and desire, psychology playing a key role. Hannibal fans will be right at home – as will those fans of No Country for Old MenIt wears its influences on its sleeve, but thanks to the craft of Steven ZaillianRipley stands head and shoulders above them all.

It may stretch a relatively short novel to eight episodes with multiple over-the-hour mark to its absolute limit in terms of pacing but make no mistake; Ripley is riveting television. It takes its time, revels in building the surroundings, like HBO’s My Brilliant Friend it wants you to spend more time in the heavily aesthetically structured worldview of Italy. Staircases are featured so heavily they might be a main character as much as Ripley, Marge or Dickie – and it’s hard not to admire the bravado of Ripley in an age of instant consumption that commands its viewers to slow down and adjust to its wavelength. To promise exotic locations is one thing; to turn everything into black and white another, but to turn everything into black and white and make it somehow look more gorgeous than the real thing takes a kind of art that is hard not to admire.

The pace is part of Ripley’s charm

The slowness of Ripley then is part of its charm, the mapping of Ripley’s move right down to the minute makes the pace and structure exquisite. It’s a house of cards waiting to be toppled, Marge caught at the center of it all; and throw in Maurizio Lombardi’s dogged Inspector Ravini, investigating the death of poor Freddie Miles; you have yourself a marked success. Doubts gather everywhere. Lies, deceit shake you to the core. Question everything, believe nothing. Show of the year and arguably, performance of the year too – if Scott doesn’t win awards; it will be a misjudged opportunity, despite his age it is hard not to think this is the newly definitive version of the character – rage and hatred under the surface that showcase his distaste and need to control everything.

Patience bubbles under the heart of Ripleyit is everywhere – Fanning is superb waiting for her moment, collecting evidence, and Lombardi is the Sherlock to Ripley’s Moriarty – both feel like a match made in heaven.  Be ready to step back and be swept under the spell of the show; its charm is irresistible.

Ripley is now streaming on Netflix.

Learn more about the miniseries on Netflix’s website for the title.

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