Netflix's 'Ripley' Squanders the Talent of the Original

Created by Steven Zaillian

Starring Andrew Scott, Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn, Eliot Sumner, Maurizio Lombardi, Margherita Buy, John Malkovich, Kenneth Lonergan, Ann Cusack

BY Rachel HoPublished Apr 4, 2024


Patience will be key for those dipping into Netflix's new series, Ripley. Based on Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, Andrew Scott stars as the titular grifter Tom Ripley, who shines as much as the restrained and prolonged series allows. The series serves as a stunning travelogue to Italy, but its visuals can't overcome the languid tempo or the characters' flaccid chemistry.

Prior to Ripley, the last Hollywood adaptation of Highsmith's enduring psychological thriller was Anthony Minghella's excellent 1999 film that housed a murderers' row of emerging-at-the-time talent: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Philip Seymour Hoffman. What made the 1999 version such an effective piece of work was the unhinged, unilateral relationship between Damon's Ripley and Law's Dickie Greenleaf, thanks in large part to the nuanced and biting performances from Damon and Law and their resulting chemistry.

In Ripley, the series follows the same general premise as Minghella's film, although it remains more faithful to Highsmith's original story. Dickie's parents believe Tom to be a friend of their son, and hope that Tom can convince Dickie (played by Johnny Flynn in this version) to return home from gallivanting in Italy. Failing as a conman in New York City, Tom is more than happy to take up Mr. and Mrs. Greenleaf's offer of an all-expenses paid trip to Italy, even if he doesn't actually know Dickie.

After arriving in Italy, Tom attempts to ingratiate himself into Dickie's life, which includes the instantly suspicious girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning). A series of events unfolds: people go missing, corpses tumble out of cars and Tom becomes a suspect in his own alleged disappearance.

Where Minghella focused on the disturbing, sycophantic nature of Tom, Ripley creator Steven Zaillian hones in on the menace a person like Tom would invite. There's a sense of foreboding and an almost noir quality that permeates the eight episodes. Cinematographer Robert Elswit picks up a lot of the heavy lifting in this regard, with postcard-like black-and-white imagery of the intricate architecture and natural beauty of Italy creating an elegant yet tense atmosphere.

Zaillian takes his time getting to every waypoint of Highsmith's story, and takes even more time concluding the different events that lead to these points. Arguably, Zaillian's depiction is more realistic and gives viewers time to really sit with Tom's actions. But, ultimately, no matter how invested or interested, it's hard to shake the jittery desire for things to get a move on — andiamo, as it were.

Beyond the drawn-out story, where Ripley falls the most is in Tom's motivations apart from simply being a conman. Much of what makes Highsmith's story (and Minghella's movie) compelling is Tom's unadulterated obsession with Dickie, and how Dickie initially entertains this to feed his own ego. Whether it's the writing or the completely sterile dynamic between Scott and Flynn, there's nothing between Dickie and Tom that even mildly insinuates a relationship greater than two men who bond over accidentally wearing the same shirt at a social gathering.

Without the whirlwind friendship, why Dickie grants Tom so much rope becomes confounding, and also removes any of the desperation and anger from Tom that would give some plausible reason for his behaviour. Instead, we're simply moving through the motions of a swindler as he swindles, which can make for an exciting limited series if not moving at a snail's pace.

For as gorgeous as Ripley looks — truly, I was looking up flights to Italy after I watched the series — there's a missing piece to the series that becomes its own undoing. A spark is needed to lift the series and tie together the loose ends of the story that neither Scott nor Flynn were able to strike.


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