Ripley Review – A Beautiful New Take On A Classic

Netflix’s new prestige TV show Ripley from Steven Zaillian, the writer behind fantastic movies like Schindler’s List (1993) and The Irishman (2019), isn’t the first adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s classic novel The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), and it wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t end up being the last. The timing is interesting given we just had Saltburn (2023) last year, a movie clearly inspired by The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), but if you ask me, we deserve a good version of this kind of story after having to sit through that disaster. But with two previous adaptations of this material, both of which are very well regarded, what does Ripley do to stand out? The obvious one, of course, is that it’s a limited series instead of a movie.

Being a six and a half-hour show instead of a two-hour movie naturally allows Ripley to take much more time for every plot beat and let the story breathe. More than anything, it allows us to spend much more time with Tom Ripley himself and explore his inner workings. That’s the biggest strength of this adaptation of the novel: we get to experience the story through the eyes of our protagonist and become a part of Tom Ripley’s mind, complete with all its genius and delusions. Using both sound and image to create a heightened reality of subjective paranoia.

It’s not uncommon for movies and shows set in the past to utilize black and white cinematography, either shooting on film or at least attempting to mimic grain, scratches, and other imperfections, all in an effort to emulate old film reels and thus evoke the aesthetics of a time passed. Ripley has a different approach. While the show is in black and white, cinematographer Robert Elswit instead uses digital cameras to create flawless, clean images, which creates a rather unique look. Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018) is the only project I can think of that sports a similar aesthetic. Furthermore, it’s clear that Robert Elswit understands the strengths of black and white cinematography. High-contrast lighting, interesting textures, and more than a few shots utilizing reflective surfaces to great effect. And don’t even get me started on the stunning underwater scenes. On top of that, the framing and blocking are about as perfect as Tom Ripley’s masterplan itself.

Add to those images the outstanding sound design that purposefully isolates and emphasizes specific sounds, and you get an expressionist dreamscape in which Tom Ripley is haunted by both his past and future at every turn. At times, it almost edges into psychological horror in how it depicts Ripley’s bad conscience and mounting paranoia, or lack thereof. Steven Zaillian evidently had a very clear vision of how the inner turmoil of the character would manifest and went with some bold directorial choices that paid off.

While much of the show is filled with tension and a certain sense of dread, it’s also surprisingly funny. Steven Zaillian’s script manages to juggle tones impressively well to make light of dark situations without undercutting the seriousness of them and makes Tom Ripley both smoothly charming and also awkward to the point of inevitable second-hand embarrassment.

Despite the longer runtime, Ripley mostly lets its supporting character fall by the wayside, in favor of deepening the bond the audience has with its titular character. Accordingly, the show becomes a star vehicle for Andrew Scott, who gets to show off his incredible talent as Mr. Ripley. One could certainly fault the show for how little some of its other characters get to do; in particular, Dakota Fanning’s Marge is rather underwhelming, but I think the show works beautifully as a character study of Ripley himself and gets away with leaving everyone else behind in the periphery.

Nairon Santos de Morais
Nairon, 21, from Berlin, is a film student by day, and a writer for FlickLuster by night. Movies and video games are his two big passions in life. As long as they are being kept separate, please no more awful video game adaptations.

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