Netflix’s Ripley | A Stylish Noir Thriller With Teeth 

“He had always understood the power of lies – how they could shape reality”

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith 

A lot of people will already be familiar with this story. After the success of 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley by British director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), many would have thought another adaptation was not justified. They were wrong. While The Talented Mr. Ripley is a great movie based on Patricia Highsmith’s book of the same name, it just did not drill into the character enough, and the characters were somewhat miscast. With Matt Damon as protagonist Tom Ripley, he played the part slightly tame, or did not project enough believable menace to bring to life the scheming grifter.

That said, the storytelling is executed flawlessly, and some performances including Jude Law as the ill-fated Dickie Greenleaf were commendable. But with a run time of a little over two hours, getting under the skin of the complicated character if Ripley was always going to be a difficult task. And now, thankfully, Netflix has delivered a format more deserving to tell this story. 

In the hands of  Steven Zaillian, who has won countless awards for his screenplay for Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg), we are given plenty to get our teeth into. Set across eight episodes, Ripley gives us a black and white psychological tour-de-force. Similar to the impact of the monochrome cinematography delivered in Schindler’s List, Zaillian directs a slow burning, bleak slice of brilliance. There is no sunlit scenery. Like the character of Ripley, the director has created a world devoid of any joy, colour and even love.

But the icing on the cake here is the slithering and unnerving performance of Andrew Scott as the title
character. His dead, soulless eyes give the impression of a man who’s morality has collapsed – a sociopath who envies and takes without remorse. He plays the part with more conviction compared to the ‘goofiness’ provided by Matt Damon, who for all his worth could not give the character that threatening edge. 


The series opens with a future insight into who Ripley is, something which is used to effect in Martin Scorsese movies, such as Goodfellas, to give the audience a taste of what to expect, and creates a quick character study. Then we enter a world reminiscent of a kitchen sink drama, where we find New Yorker Tom Ripley as a man simply existing instead of living in fifties America. A conman, who survives day to day in a tiny bedsit forging cheques and hatching schemes unsuccessfully.

That is, until fortune raises its head and lifts our protagonist out of his hopelessness. A saviour in the shape of Herbert Greenleaf (Kenneth Lonergan). Greenleaf, a multimillionaire ship builder, employs Ripley to talk to his son, Dickie, and bring him home from Italy. Somehow, Greenleaf believes he is a friend of his sons, but regardless, with expenses paid and a salary, Ripley heads for the glorious Italian city of Atrani.

On his arrival, he fakes his way into Dickie’s life, therefore triggering the events that lead to fraud and murder. Unlike the aforementioned film version, there is little sexual attraction (if any) between the two men. In part, this is down to the performance of Johnny Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf who portrays the
character as relaxed, and a charming socialite. This is very unlike Jude Law’s portrayal, which played out as
if he was an energetic eighteen year old let loose in Ibiza. 

These changes add drama and realism, and more character depth, shown further with Dakota Fanning as Dickie’s girlfriend Marge – the questioning voice in Dickie’s ear. Even with Scott’s age of forty-seven, too old to be this version of Ripley, he still manages to inject the vulnerabilities of a man much younger, and even when he is the only person on screen he still keeps things flowing. 

The sense of urgency – where acting on impulse Ripley dispatches Dickie to a watery grave – is done with such viciousness and lack of remorse that it becomes an unsettling watch. However, even though Scott acts every bit the psychotic killer, disposing bodies becomes his problem afterwards. This brings a sense of dark humour to the enterprise, showing how the character will act first and only forms a plan later.

We find Ripley moving to Rome, lying to all about his friend’s whereabouts and assuming the identity of Dickie while keeping the name Tom Ripley alive when needed. Here, he is doing exactly what he did at the start of the series. He is existing, alone, but he is in control, and you question is it life he wants, or simply the power and control money gives? 

The disappearance of Dickie casts a shadow and his world begins to unravel after he murders again. From this point you get drawn into that tension and panic, which is executed phenomenally well, and your breathing may start to imitate that of Ripley. This leads to some of the highlights of the series, such as Inspector Ravin (Maurizio Lombradi) who has arrived to interview Ripley, believing him to be Dickie Greenleaf. This interaction between the two characters, and two men who lack any emotion trying to read each other, makes for an exceptional watch. Their game of cat and mouse is something to savour. On a side note, the ease at which Ripley moulds himself into Greenleaf may cause you to wonder whether he is indeed Tom Ripley – or did some Tom Ripley suffer the same fate as Dickie? 

That is not to say Ripley as a series, like the character, is without flaws. With a slow pace that allows for broad character development, it may put some off, and at times it may seem like the viewing equivalent of pulling teeth. Beyond that, the performances do counterbalance the pace, and the inclusion of John Malkovich as Reeves Minot brings an extra flourish to proceedings and is a worthwhile nod to his own turn as the older Ripley in 2002’s Ripley’s Game (Liliana Cavani).

Overall, those familiar or unfamiliar with the story will find Ripley intriguing – it is not so much the story that is the main focus, but more how it plays out. Fans of crime thrillers will be satisfied, and the ending is a decent enough conclusion. Whether the director will decide to expand on Ripley is a difficult question to answer, for now though Netflix have delivered something that is both minimalistic and binge worthy.

Ripley is currently streaming on Netflix.

Featured Image Credit