Ripley Is Dramatically Captivating And Visually Appealing

Tom Ripley, the cunning villain in Patricia Highsmith’s novel, is the quintessential con artist, always poised to pounce on his latest victim. Matt Damon portrayed him with aplomb in The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999. Andrew Scott plays him with crafty coolness in Ripley, which currently unfolds in eight episodes on the Netflix streaming platform.

The latest adaptation is written and directed by Steven Zaillian, who wrote the script for Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List. 

All the elements here align. The plot is compelling. Robert Elswit’s stark and often chilling black-and white cinematography is brilliant. The production values are superior. The performances are superb.

What more could one ask for in the wasteland that is television?

Ripley takes place in 1961 and moves from the depressing tenements of New York City’s Lower East Side to Italy’s scenic Amalfi coast, Rome’s architectural splendor and Venice’s winding canals. Featuring the somber and expressive Renaissance paintings of Caravaggio, it is a feast for the eyes, even when the backdrops are less than wondrous.

It begins on a jolting note as an unidentified man laboriously drags a corpse down a staircase in an old apartment building in Rome. It then segues to the lower reaches of New York City, where we’re introduced to a down-at-the heels grifter named Tom. An inveterate scammer, he earns a barely passable living, which accounts for his miserable abode.

An African-American private investigator rescues him from his misery, offering him the chance of a lifetime and the potential of a handsome payday. Mistaking Tom for the friend of a rich man’s son, he guides him to Herbert Greenleaf (Kenneth Lonergan), the wealthy owner of a shipyard. Herbert and his wife have not seen their son, Dickie, in a long time and want to lure him back to the United States. Herbert hires Tom to track him down and convince him to leave Italy. With nothing to lose, Tom is only too glad to accept Herbert’s cash allowance and an all-expenses paid trip to Europe.

Dickie (Johnny Flynn), dependent on his father’s regular stipends, has never worked a day in his life. An aspiring painter, he lives in a villa perched on a cliff overlooking the sea near the village of Atrani, which is only accessible by way of hundreds of steep steps. His Italian housekeeper tends to his meals and cleans the residence.

Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn and Andrew Scott are at the center of Ripley

Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning), a writer working on a travel book about Atrani, lives a few doors away.

Wily, somewhat sociable and linguistically gifted, Tom gradually wins Dickie’s confidence and worms his way into his circle. Marge, however, is suspicious of Tom, as is Dickie’s weird friend, Freddie Miles (Eliot Sumner).

Eventually, Dickie grows weary of Tom and informs him that his services are no longer required. Alarm bells sound when Tom hears this bit of bad news. He has no intention of returning to his dead-end life in New York City. So he devises a Machiavellian scheme to remain in Italy and cash in on the Greenleaf fortune. This is where Tom’s psychopathic impulses kick in, imperilling Dickie and Freddie.

Andrew Scott turns in a terrific performance

Ripley is a pleasure to watch, given its unhurried pacing, its upstanding cast, and its emphasis on aesthetics. The cinematographer does not lose sight of anything, even the tiniest detail. He pans graphically on cobblestone streets, fine classical buildings, winding staircases, an alert cat squatting on a window sill, gargoyles, statues, imposing cliffs, churning sea water, rippling canals, darkening skies, curling tobacco smoke, and the timeless allure of Caravaggio masterpieces.

Mauritzio Lombardi

Above all, he focuses on people’s faces, whose emotions are hard to mask. One of the most arresting ones in this panorama is Ravini (Mauritzio Lombardi), the seasoned Rome detective who repeatedly turns up following Dickie’s strange disappearance. He suspects that Tom may have something to do with his vanishment, but lacks the evidence to detain him. Nor is he even sure that a crime has been committed. Tom, in any event, is usually one or two steps ahead of Ravini.

Ripley, dramatically captivating and visually attractive, is enveloping in its appeal. It is television at its finest.