Ripley (TV Miniseries 2024) – Review by Andrea Carnevali

Ripley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A grifter named Ripley living in New York during the 1960s is hired by a wealthy man to bring his wayward son home from Italy. Ripley sees the opportunity of a lifetime to make a killing.

It’s probably a bit unfair, but also quite natural, to compare this miniseries on Netflix to the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley by Anthony Minghella. After all, they are both adaptations from the same novel, written in 1955 by Patricia Highsmith; they both follow pretty much the same main plot points, they have (for the most part) the same characters, and they are filmed in the same Italian locations, and yet the two final products could not be further apart.

I won’t be going into which one is better because it’s a silly argument to have. Just the fact that one is a miniseries, and in eight hours or more can make the story breathe in a way that impossible in a film, makes the comparison pretty pointless from the start.

If anything, this Netflix series proves that there is definitely room for both: the lush technicolor Italy, where passions run wild, and jealousy can lead to murder on one side, and a much colder, darker, seedier version where Ripley, beautifully played with a hint of cold menace by Andrew Scott, who just disappears into this role, is a real sociopath, at times a bit weird and other times truly terrifying (he rarely ever blinks!), but always absolutely mesmerizing.

The choice of filming this in black and white is obviously key to the success of this series, offering the viewers a fresh and compelling perspective on the narrative and its characters. Of course, on the surface, it makes everything feel a lot darker, sinister, colder (it was also filmed during winter), but also more unsettling, and fits perfectly with this new depiction of Ripley. And as it happens, it also makes this one of the best-looking TV series I’ve seen in a long time.

You might not get that romanticism from Minghella’s vision of Italy, and yet every frame can still be hung on a wall: those wet cobbled streets looking so timeless, the southern towns built on stairs, ancient and evocative.

Andrew Scott plays Ripley as a real enigma, just as Highsmith had written about 70 years ago (and yet, it’s a book so modern and fresh that often feels like it could have been written just yesterday). Ripley is a man lacking morality, “a human vacuum,” as described by writer-director Steven Zaillian (the Oscar winning screenwriter of Schindler’s List). He is a much more difficult character to decipher and instantly like than Matt Damon ever was, yet the power of the story is such that pretty soon, we are with him wholeheartedly, and we just don’t want him to be caught.

I loved this series, and the more I think about it, the more I appreciate what it did.

I loved how the series took its time and did not want to rush things. I adored that one of the episodes was basically entirely spent watching somebody trying to get rid of a body (and that cat watching everything!! Brilliant!!).

I loved how it often focused on details that were just red herrings, basically placed there with the only purpose of making us feel jittery, anxious, unsettled, but nothing more than that (I’m talking about the suitcase with evidence against Ripley’s crime, the stains of blood in the bathtub, the ashtray as a weapon of possible murders to come).

These are things that only a TV series of more than eight hours can do. I also loved how authentic it all felt, even to an Italian like me. The locations are real, lived-in, the characters talk the way people really talk, with their different accents, depending on the region they are from, whether they are from the north or the south.

Yes, of course, there are a few clichés here and there, but hey, it’s an American product after all. In Rome, for example, they can’t help but have a nun or two walking in the background at every possible moment.

I was a bit annoyed by the signs at the train station showing names of cities in English as opposed to Italian (something that, especially in the ‘50s, would have never happened), but those are silly minor quibbles in the big scheme of things.

I was willing to get past those tiny faults. In fact, I was quite surprised by how much of the dialogue was in Italian (subtitled obviously). What did bother me a little bit more was the fact that I found Andrew Scott a little bit too old for the part: even though he carries his 50 years very well, Tom Ripley is supposed to be a twenty-something young man, with his whole life ahead and very little to lose, hence the reason why he decides to go to Italy in the first place anyway: because he’s so young.

As it is, both the beginning and the reasons for his decision to go to Italy still feel a bit contrived and slightly forced (as they did in Minghella’s version, to be honest). They only just about get away with it in the novel.

But there is so much to like here.

This is a meticulously crafted piece of filmmaking, the best of classic noir, Hitchcock, Italian cinema of the ‘50s, all in one. A piece of beauty that rewards your patience and is really one of the best things Netflix has ever produced. I binged it in two days and I can’t wait to revisit it again (and there’s a little bit of me that hopes they might adapt the next four Ripley books too!)

Ripley is streaming on Netflix right now.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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