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April 4, 2024 / Netflix

Starring: Andrew Scott, Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn, Eliot Sumner, Maurizio Lombardi, Margherita Buy, John Malkovich

Directed By: Steven Zaillian

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 limited series drama is based on Patricia Highsmith’s bestselling Tom Ripley novels.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Ripley slowly works its way under your skin to create a chilling season of television thanks to the brilliant lead performance of Andrew Scott who is nothing short of insidious in the titular role, which makes for one riveting yet slowly paced binge.

Thomas Ripley is no stranger to the screen, having been the focus of many adaptations in the past; most notably the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley which starred Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow and garnered five Academy Award nominations. While originally set to be released on Showtime, Ripley’s latest adaptation moved to Netflix with Andrew Scott in the titular role with the first novel in Patricia Highsmith’s series being revived for a new generation. Scott, hot off his critically acclaimed performance in last year’s All of Us Strangers takes on another meaty role as Thomas Ripley, a talented grifter with deadly ambitions set him on a new path in life when he becomes tasked with bringing a young American man back home to New York from Italy. From the second the series starts, you have a pretty good idea of where the story is going to go after meeting Tom, but there are so many twists and turns in Steven Zaillian’s screenplay that it create a sense of dread and anguish in viewers that will leave you shocked and speechless by the time the series hits its unforgettable final scene.

While the original novel is under three hundred pages, Zaillian easily stretches this story out over eight episodes, and the result is a thrilling experience. The series follows Tom Ripley as he is hired by a wealthy American businessman to travel to Italy and bring home his son, Dickie Greenleaf, who Tom is an acquaintance of. But upon finding Dickie in Italy, Tom is seduced by Dickie’s lifestyle and begins enacting a plan to get that life for himself. While there is a crime element to the story, first and foremost it’s a psychological character study that is unsettling throughout. Zaillian keeps the story moving, adding in layers of complexity and danger to the web of stories that Tom builds for himself as his life evolves into a life of deceit, fraud and murder. While there is no doubt that this sustains the audience’s attention over the course of eight episodes, at times the story drags and it could have benefited overall from a tighter and quicker moving plot if told over seven episodes rather than eight. But the strength of his screenplay is the moments drawn to Tom and his skill, whether it be the incredibly long real time murders and the hiding of his victim’s bodies which showcases the meticulous and calculated nature of Tom, or his practicing of impersonating individuals he meets. It’s in these moments where Zaillian captures the disturbing character study of Tom that is the basis of the entire story, which keeps you watching as Tom evades the authorities despite you hoping that justice will be served. Zaillian’s writing never for a second falters in what he sets out to achieve, right until the final credits begin to roll after that startling final scene that will no doubt leave viewers in a state of disbelief.

If there is one reason you watch this series, it is for the tour de force performance of Scott as Tom Ripley. From the second the series begins; Scott infuses the atmosphere of the entire production with his portrayal of Tom with a calculating and emotionless feel that sets the tone for the series. You know that there is something not right with this young man, who seems completely detached from any sort of emotions and as slippery as a deadly patch of black ice, but Scott’s performance leaves you with a glimmer of hope that maybe Tom is just misunderstood. But as the series progresses and you see the actions that Tom is capable of, Scott ensures that you don’t have any lingering care for Tom as he unleashes one wickedly emotionless and cruel performance. It’s an absolutely marvelous performance from Scott that not only makes this series worthy of your time, but it ranks among his best to date. And with the possibility of more story to tell given there are more novels in the series, I hope this is not the last time we see Scott in the role!

There is no distracting from Scott’s lead performance that will actually make your skin crawl, but the supporting cast helps to round out a strong ensemble. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Dakota Fanning in a project in a leading role, but she is great as Marge. Much like Scott, Fanning brings a cunningness to Marge that makes her a true match for Tom, but there is a care and compassion that she finds in Marge that makes the audience instantly sympathize with her and hope she is able to outsmart Tom. Johnny Flynn, hot off his starring role in One Life continues to impress with a solid turn as Dickie Greenleaf. He captures the charming and carefree soul of Dickie with ease, creating a character that is inviting and welcoming in an otherwise cold series. It's pivotal to the success of the series as Flynn both invites Tom to unleash his dark plan, but also creates the emotional reaction that drives the audiences’ reaction to the events that transpire. And while they don’t appear until later in the series, both Maurizio Lombardi and Eliot Sumner are compelling in their roles that round out the principle cast of characters.

Aside from Scott’s mesmerizing lead performance, the most striking element of Ripley is its cinematography. Shot entirely in black and white by Robert Elswit, the cinematographer of There Will Be Blood and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, it is easy to get lost in every single frame of the series. Black and white suits the world of Ripley perfectly, allowing the extravagance and beauty of Dickie’s life and Italy to be shown in great detail, but void of any colour to resemble the icy and affectless character of Tom. Just like Schindler’s List, there is one striking moment of colour within a single object, and it is one powerful shot that both invigorates you to finish the remaining episodes of the series while having a glimpse of hope that maybe Tom won’t get away with his deadly scheme. There is an inherent richness in each shot as the gorgeous architecture of Italy is captured on camera, creating a mesmerizing visual experience. Supplemented by great costume design and set decorating and classic Italian popular music, the series becomes one entrancing experience that you can’t help but to keep watching despite the inherent darkness of Tom and the story hiding beneath its aesthetically gorgeous surface.

As we have seen frequently over the past decade, television is a great platform to adapt novels as it allows the storytelling team time to develop the world and characters in which they are playing, while not having to condense the story they want to tell to deliver a final product with a run time short enough for theatrical release. And once again, this is proven with Ripley. Despite some minor pacing issues as the story is stretched out to fill eight episodes, Steven Zaillian crafts a compelling screenplay that is full of twists and turns while weaving a chilling character study of the infamous title character who is brought to life by a stellar performance from Andrew Scott, easily making Ripley worth your time if you can adjust to its slow burn style of storytelling.

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