‘Ripley’ Review: Netflix Noir Is The Year’s Best Show So Far

Andrew Scott stars in this addictive new series that brings black and white noir to the streaming screen.

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in Ripley. PHILIPPE ANTONELLO/Lorenzo Sisti/NETFLIX

In a sea of mediocre family melodramas and slightly stale satires, Ripley rises to the top with style. This new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s famed novel The Talented Mr. Ripley takes the familiar story in an entirely different direction from other versions. No, this series doesn’t have the sun-soaked sex appeal of ’60s Alain Delon or ‘90s Jude Law, but it’s not terribly interested in that. Rather than focus on lavish European locales or the beautiful people who populate them, the show puts all of its attention on its titular con-man.

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The story that Ripley tells is probably one you know already, if not from prior adaptations then from its recent quasi-redux in Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn. Tom Ripley (Andrew Scott) is a skilled grifter in New York City, but his luck is on the verge of running out courtesy of the IRS. Luckily, he’s about to come into some money—the prodigal son of a shipbuilding magnate, Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), has been gallivanting off in Italy for far too long, and the family needs one of his good ol’ pals to encourage him to come home. It’s no matter that Tom is no more than a passing acquaintance for Dickie, since this kind of fake-it-til-you-make-it situation is his expertise. So Tom heads to the small coastal town of Atrani, where he finds the dilettante Dickie and his sort-of-girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning). He inevitably covets Dickie’s life more and more, and before long he passes a point of no return in his quest to live large.

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in Ripley. LORENZO SISTI/NETFLIX © 2021

Steve Zaillian (creator of The Night Of and writer of Schindler’s List, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Irishman) crafts an intricate, addictive noir around this premise. Ripley feels old-fashioned, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Across eight episodes, the series weaves a complex web out of its protagonist’s exploits. Sometimes it’s slow going, working as a mystery that’s willing to lay out its puzzle pieces before putting them together, but it’s all a means to a gratifying end. You’re never quite sure how Ripley is going to get away with it, just that he will—probably.

The noir feel of Ripley is also due in large part to the exquisite black and white cinematography of Robert Elswit. He makes the whitewashed stone passages of coastal Atrani and the imposing marble statues of Rome feel like the sewers of The Third Man’s postwar Vienna. There may not be an exciting chase scene or shootout anywhere in this series, but the visuals are stark and dramatic enough to create the same effect.

The tension is also ratcheted up spectacularly once the walls begin to close in on Ripley’s dangerous fraud schemes, thanks to Italian inspector Ravini (Maurizio Lombardi). Together, Scott and Lombardi deliver some outstanding tete-a-tetes, a man whose entire existence is a lie and an inspector determined to find just a hint of truth. There is death, drama and intrigue aplenty in the series, but these cat and mouse moments are the show’s best.

Dakota Fanning as Marge Sherwood, Johnny Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf, and Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley (from left) in Ripley. Courtesy of Netflix

Aside from these exchanges, Scott makes for quite the intriguing leading man on his own. It’s a far cry from his sympathetic turn in last year’s All of Us Strangers, with the actor putting his chameleonic skill to use as the frequently skin-shedding Ripley. He projects confidence across all of his scams; as he comes under suspicion, every reply is easy. Even when he puts his foot in it, Scott’s Ripley is always able to recover. He walks a precarious tightrope with Marge and Dickie, and his interactions with the former are always delightfully prickly. It’s a tricky, fascinating thing to play a character that puts everyone on edge (including the viewer) while still remaining magnetic and compelling, but Scott pulls it off at every turn.

Scott’s performance is easily the best of the bunch, followed by Lombardi and Fanning. A few members of the cast don’t gel as well, unfortunately. Flynn, while good, doesn’t make Dickie terribly memorable; given how other adaptations have highlighted that role, it’s a shame how little he registers in comparison. The show’s one true performative pitfall, though, comes from Eliot Sumner as Dickie’s rich friend Freddie Miles. The actor doesn’t have the range or depth of his castmates. While other characters’ face offs with Ripley have a certain spark, Freddie’s fall flat, and the suspicion that Sumner bring to his character decidedly one note.

Thankfully, that’s just about the only notable flaw with Ripley. The series is unlike anything else on TV right now, from its stunning cinematography to its distinctive character work to its keen genre take on a well-known story. It’s a slow burn that embraces a bygone noir sensibility, and it’s all the better for it. Ripley is one of the more original adaptations you’ll see this year, and it’s certainly one of the best shows that Netflix has to offer.

‘Ripley’ Review: Netflix Noir Is The Year’s Best Show So Far