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Review: Andrew Scott Delivers a Darker Take on the Enduring Grifter in Netflix’s ‘Ripley’

Review: Andrew Scott Delivers a Darker Take on the Enduring Grifter in Netflix’s ‘Ripley’

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From stories inspired by real-life con artists like Catch Me If You Can and Inventing Anna to fictional tales such as Ingrid Goes West and Saltburn, the social-climbing grifter is an enduring cinematic character that we love to watch scheme their way into the one percent, taking advantage of snobby rich people who spend their millions carelessly.

If you’ve seen Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, or read Patricia Highsmith’s best-selling novels on which it was based, then you know that the titular Tom Ripley is one of the most iconic scammers on page and screen. In addition to Damon’s memorable performance, he’s been portrayed in films by Alain Delon (1960’s Purple Noon), Barry Pepper (2005’s Ripley Under Ground), Dennis Hopper (1977’s The American Friend), and John Malkovich (2002’s Ripley’s Game). Malkovich makes a guest appearance in Ripley as a different character. 

Ripley, an eight-episode thriller written, directed, and produced by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, The Irishman), offers a darker take on the figure with actor-producer Andrew Scott stepping into the (likely stolen) shoes of Tom Ripley. You may know him as Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, the Hot Priest in Fleabag, or more recently as Adam in All of Us Strangers.

Zaillian told Vanity Fair that Scott’s previous performances heavily influenced his casting, including his voice-only role in 2013’s Locke, saying the actor still managed to create “a thoroughly engaging character. With those two roles — Donal and the Priest — I knew he had the range for Tom Ripley.”

Set in the 1960s, Scott’s professional con man spends his days running various scams from a small New York apartment. A life-changing opportunity falls into his lap when he’s approached by a private detective (Bokeem Woodbine) working for a shipping industrialist (Kenneth Lonergan) looking to employ him. Thinking Tom is a Princeton alumnus, Mr. Greenleaf asks Tom to travel to Italy and persuade his aimless son Dickie (Johnny Flynn) to come home. Unsurprisingly, he accepts the all expenses paid vacation abroad.

The first episode spends most of its runtime establishing Tom’s unpleasant life in New York and, instead of cutting to his arrival in Europe, we see the tedious, stressful process he goes through making his way overseas. It’s a slow burn with little dialogue or action but an effectively immersive way into the mind and solitary existence of Tom Ripley. And later on in the series, we experience every minute of laborious crime scene clean-up right along with him.

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The pacing picks up after he strategically runs into Dickie lazing about with his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning). Once he gets the smallest taste of their expensive, relaxed lifestyle, he sets his sights on making it his lifestyle, too, and he’ll lie, steal, and kill to get it. 

By Episode 2, he’s almost fully integrated himself into Dickie’s enviable life. Marge isn’t buying Mr. Ripley’s story or good intentions, and while her immediate suspicions aren’t explicitly stated, they are very much felt through Fanning’s cadence and expressions.

Dickie’s rich friend Freddie Miles (Eliot Sumner) doesn’t like Tom either and similarly makes it known in a dismissive tone bordering on aggressive. Just one of the many awkward and tense interactions that are mostly communicated through their body language. 

Ripley is increasingly suspenseful, but there are some comedic moments, like when Tom is trying to understand directions in Italian or realizing that getting to Dickie’s villa requires climbing endless stairs. It’s entertaining that Tom is wound so tight and constantly trying to appear relaxed. Although it’s not all smooth sailing, he commits to shape-shifting his way around Europe getting by on his talent for lying, impersonations, and juggling identities. He also convincingly nails the aloof indifference of a wealthy man always on the go. 

The cinematography of Ripley is mind-blowing. I mean, it is stunning, especially DP Robert Elswit’s (There Will Be Blood, Good Night, and Good Luck) beautiful establishing shots of the otherworldly locations across Europe. While these places would look just as breathtaking in color, Zaillian was going for more of an aesthetic along the lines of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. And for this particular take, I’m convinced the series could only be done in black and white. It’s like an expressionistic photo essay in motion.

Ripley is a fascinating character study and visually rich noir thriller fittingly told in gorgeous black and white. Andrew Scott expertly captures the darkness within the dangerously deceptive Tom Ripley, while still being a protagonist to root for. The series is a very Hitchcockian slow burn that requires your patience and undivided attention. It may seem a tad tedious but once you settle in and appreciate the subtleties of the deliberately paced story, it’s an incredibly immersive viewing experience. Honestly, it’s worth watching just for the lush cinematography. 

Ripley premieres April 4, 2024, on Netflix.


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