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Ripley Review: Netflix’s Grifter Thriller Is Stylish But Sluggish — Now, YOU Grade It!

Tom Ripley is one of literature’s great con men, and Andrew Scott is a perfect choice to play him. The Fleabag and Sherlock actor is charming and has a sophisticated air… and yet there’s something a little off about him. (Even when he played a priest in Fleabag, he had a mischievous glint in his eye.) He slips effortlessly into the title role in Netflix’s Ripley — all eight episodes are now streaming; I’ve seen the first four — and the lush black-and-white cinematography is a joy to behold. The series is badly hampered by an overly deliberate pace, though, and being trapped inside Ripley’s twisted mind starts to feel uncomfortable after a while. The end result is thick with atmosphere, but thin on story.

An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s bestselling novels, Ripley takes us back to 1961, where Scott’s Tom Ripley is a small-time con artist, scamming medical patients with phony collection letters. He’s approached by the father of rich socialite Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn) to bring him home from Italy, where he’s living large off his trust fund money. The voyage to picturesque Italy gives Tom an intoxicating taste of the good life — Dickie is the epitome of casual wealth, with Picassos hanging on the wall — and Tom fibs his way into Dickie’s good graces. Dickie’s girlfriend Marge (Dakota Fanning) is suspicious of him, though, and as Dickie’s trust in him starts to slip, Tom reveals he’ll do anything to maintain his foothold in high society.

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Ripley Netflix Dakota Fanning Johnny Flynn Marge Dickie
Ripley Netflix Dakota Fanning Johnny Flynn Marge Dickie

Shot entirely in black-and-white, Ripley is a throwback to old Hollywood filmmaking, taking its sweet time and teeming with glamour. With Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) behind the camera, each frame is like a beautiful photograph, rich with shadow and texture. The early episodes patiently set the mood… but perhaps too patiently. The lingering shots of the Italian coastline are nice to look at, but the pace is decidedly slow here. This story could’ve just been a two-hour movie — and it was, with 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. But this is a show that lingers, and indulges, and the thrills dissipate as a result.

As Tom, Scott has an intense stare that is positively unsettling; in black and white, his eyes look ink black and beady, like a shark’s. We catch him practicing being Dickie in the mirror, like an actor rehearsing his lines, and it’s a bit hard to understand why Dickie and Marge would let a man like this into their lives. (It’s also odd that Scott, at 47 years old, is playing a young man who’s supposedly fresh out of college.) As Dickie, Flynn can’t approach the sun-kissed charisma that Jude Law had in The Talented Mr. Ripley — but to be fair, very few of us can. This is clearly a passion project for veteran screenwriter Steven Zaillian (The Night Of), who writes and directs all eight episodes himself. But it’s also sort of understandable why Showtime handed it off to Netflix after years of development, too.

Ripley Netflix Andrew Scott Tom
Ripley Netflix Andrew Scott Tom

With only a few characters, Ripley can’t help but feel claustrophobic, and as the story (slowly) unfolds, it only becomes more so. The tension peaks in the third episode, which doubles as a fantastic showcase for Scott. But there’s a vast moral emptiness at the center of this series that never gets filled. It all feels cold and clinical: It’s like we’re seeing the world through Tom Ripley’s eyes, where everything is literally black or white — either something he wants, or something that’s in his way, with nothing in between. In the end, Ripley does a commendable job of putting us in Tom Ripley’s shoes… but I’m not sure that’s a place we really want to be.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Ripley boasts beautiful cinematography and a strong lead performance, but it stretches its story out so thin, it ruins the thrills.

And since Ripley is now streaming on Netflix, we want to know what you think: If you’ve watched, give the series a grade in our poll and hit the comments to share your thoughts.

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