top of page

Ripley

Everyone is talking about Ripley, and as the undisputed experts on things beginning with ‘R’, the gang at rrramble can’t help but share their thoughts. Patricia Highsmith’s classic novel about how you can’t trust poor people or gay people is on screen once again, and while it’s easy to cast Andrew Scott, it’s not so easy to add a new spin to an old story. Four of our writers are left with the question: did they pull off?


A black and white still of Andrew Scott holding a camera. The image is encircled by a green and pink camera aperture


Elena


The umpteenth adaptation of the same source material usually elicits a sigh and a resigned “Do we really need another one?” from me. There are so many stories out there that are begging to be told and adapted, also by storytellers who have historically not been afforded the chance. And yet. I am a simple woman: I see the name Andrew Scott, I click. 


If I had any doubts, they were quickly assuaged. Capable hands can transform anything, and these are some very capable hands. Andrew Scott was made for this role in this particular adaptation. His performance is enigmatic, controlled, and magnetic. While I loved Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation and Matt Damon’s version of the eponymous Tom Ripley, I was quickly spellbound by Scott and found his performance distinct enough to warrant another adaptation. 


As someone who was a teenager in the heyday of Tumblr, I am of course reminded of Scott’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous nemesis Moriarty. I remain in awe of his ability to go from psychopathic mastermind, to Fleabag’s kind and loving Hot Priest, to the lonely and depressed Adam in All of Us Strangers, and back to a Patrick Bateman-type character with Ripley.


So while I could dedicate this whole review just to Andrew Scott, I probably should loose a few words about some other aspects of the limited series. Besides the performances, it is the black and white cinematography that really shines: Ripley is sleek and stylish, full of beautiful lingering shots of 1960s Italy with an evocative soundtrack that grounds the story. When I realised the cinematographer was responsible for almost every Paul Thomas Anderson film, including There Will Be Blood I wasn’t surprised. It’s stunning. The eight episodes of runtime leave enough breathing space for close-ups and side characters to furnish the world with great detail, as well as gradually increasing the tension. Some might find the pacing too slow, and I have to admit that my attention did wander at times. However, the moment Andrew Scott was back in the frame so was my gaze.


At first, I also found myself missing some of the warmth, the occasional playful queerness and romance that Minghella brought to the 1999 version. Part of its appeal was the lush sunny Italian setting that lures you in deeper and deeper into Ripley’s state of mind as loving adoration and envy of Dickie battle it out within him. However, if you let it, this version will capture your attention by gradually and meticulously building the tension into something quite different. Scott’s Ripley is not motivated by passion but instead is characterised as a second-rate con man who is amoral and cold-blooded from the beginning. 


This Ripley seems to be closer to his characterisation in the source text. Other characters are also interpreted differently to the 1999 adaptation: Johnny Flynn’s Dickie is less cruel but also perhaps less charming than Jude Law’s Dickie and Dakota Fanning’s Marge is a lot more suspicious of Ripley from the beginning than Gwyneth Paltrow’s was. Ultimately, however, I love that both of these adaptations can exist side by side.


The Ripley character personifies a kind of lack and absence, his character and potential psychopathy difficult to pin down. Perhaps he becomes more of an archetype, a symptom of society like Patrick Bateman rather than a tragic anti-hero. Nothing made Tom Ripley the way he is. No tragic backstory. He just is who he is. And I can’t stop watching. 


Lois


First, I really wish reviewers would stop calling this work “Hitchcockian”. When Hitchcock adapted Patricia Highsmith we got Strangers On a Train (1951), which popped, panicked and hurtled us towards the most terrifying merry-go-round ride in cinema history and it took 90 minutes for him to do it. 


If what I just saw was anything like Hitchcock, I wouldn’t be sitting here 3 hours in, so wholly devoid of inspiration that I’m not sure how I’ll get this piece to 500 words. My assignment was to watch the first two episodes but, had I left it there, there’d be nothing at all to submit except that there’s steps. Lots.


I took this review because I wondered how the latest incarnation of the broke fledgling sociopath who gets obsessed with the rich boy he’s supposed to be bringing home from Italy at his dad’s behest would look in 2024. The source material is entrenched in the rhetoric of its era and Ripley’s inner monologue, which sets the tone and pace of the 1955 novel, is similarly afflicted. It reads like this mix of calculating cynicism and internalised homophobia that evolves into disturbing behaviour.  I don’t love the way sexual otherness gets woven into the manifestation of some wider criminal pathology and ends up dog whistling at me from the pattern in a silk dressing gown. Both Highsmith and Hitchcock lean into that stuff and, whilst I’m happy not to see it dusted off and wheeled out thus far, the fact remains that it’s the protagonist’s biggest motivator. 


With any motivation stripped away, it looks like a bunch of strangers who don’t like each other and are old enough to know better mumbling occasionally about refrigerators. Ripley’s insides – upon which the drama of the original story depended - have been replaced with over-engineered photographic sequences with a superfluous arse shot thrown in because – I don’t know why. This and the absence of any soundtrack until episode 3 also marks it rather definitively as not “Hitchcockian.”


Furthermore, I feel as though the creator expects me to know its predecessors, and, knowing them, chuckle at how downplayed and superior everything is. What’s worse is I don’t know if that’s what it was aiming for, but it was so busy trying to be nuanced and above its audience that I eventually got bored wondering. 


The performances are strikingly engaging and what dialog there is can rightly be called evocative. There’s just so little ebb and flow. The IMDB interviews suggest it’s about interpreting the thoughts without hearing them, but that relies, again, on the viewer knowing the source material. Even with some prior knowledge, I still don’t connect with this Ripley – particularly since the grime and poverty he longs to escape looks more like “poverty chic” in high def black and white. 


The Guardian reviewer told me to persevere. I lasted three episodes; until the catalyst for the main action occurs and I’m certain one quarter of that was him figuring out how to deal with a motorboat. By the time they got round to it, my mind had drifted, and I didn’t look up until he fell in the water and the boat somehow acquired sentience. That sequence was hilarious, actually, but again so drawn out I lost interest.


That sort of sums up my experience. I came to see these brilliant performers address this material and got a boat with comedy timing. I think I get what it’s doing but it’s not Hitchcockian. It seems too obsessed with its own artiness to be anything at all.


Two young men stand in the sun. One looks off to the right, while the other stares at him, and directly into the camera.
One can't help but draw comparisons to Matt Damon's take on the character


Grace


His neck, his beautiful neck. His little bomber jacket. His wonderful hair, slicked back in a wave. What a gorgeous, yet terrifying, man Mr. Ripley makes, in Andrew Scott’s form. I couldn’t stop watching him--- which is excellent, given that he dominates the screen in Ripley, the latest adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel.  


In the first episodes of Steven Zillian’s series, there were so many moments where I felt personally tricked by Tom, charmed against my will: his puzzlement at rich folk, and their strange ways; his genius; and, of course, his beautiful neck again. Each time Ripley would make a face, or a witticism of some kind, I’d be there with him, strangely wishing his success with the Greenleaf family. And then the curtain would be pulled back, and I’d realise: Oh. Tom Ripley. Murderer. (Dickie’s death scene, in particular, is harrowing --- there is the sense that a switch has been flicked in Tom’s brain, that he has removed all access to feeling. Blank face, unseeing, psychopathic eyes --- the show gives us it all.) 


I know --- because I have read so many articles like this --- that people often call great performances ‘masterclasses in acting’. And I might be struck down for a lack of originality, here, but Andrew Scott’s talent is so great, so vast, that watching him in Ripley really is like paying for one of those hundred-pound online courses which glare at you in the YouTube ads. Ripley is a chameleon: he can imitate anyone, mimicking their tone, their pattern of speech. One awful moment (amongst so many) involves a long, one-man-show-style performance of Dickie and his girlfriend by Tom himself, who speaks like them to the empty room. It is insane. And it is later deeply, deeply embarrassing, as Tom turns around to find the person he is imitating (Dickie) staring at him in the hall. Of course, this would not be possible without Andrew Scott’s acting prowess, his ability to shift between all these modes. For Ripley is only as good an actor as Scott can be --- and both are ‘talented’ beyond belief (see what I did there).  


For anyone moulded to this fast-paced, dopamine-incentivised world, ‘Ripley’ can seem a little slow. In the beginning, this was the show’s greatest weakness: Do we need so many shots of the tables, another centred on his paperwork, the three coffees by the window? (The smart person in me says yes. The tired one, just trying to enjoy a show, says no.) During some moments, I watched episodes on 1.25 speech, which might be classified as a severe crime in some university film societies (I’m sorry, film bros --- I promise I love The Godfather). But, like Tom Ripley himself, the show has the incredible ability of growing on you. And all that Catholic imagery, paired with the shots of the Atrani coast, the cave-like villas, doused in greyish light, won me over, in the end. 



A white woman with bushy hair, wearing a grey boiler suit
Not to be confused with the iconic Sigourney Weaver character, and my own personal mother, Ellen Ripley


Sophie


I’ll basically watch anything with Andrew Scott in it, so I didn’t need much convincing to start the latest adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 crime novel: Netflix’s Ripley


The show has a kind of slow feel to it, but not in a bad way. The pacing is elegant and puts the viewer in the moment. It really lets you sit with the tension and awkwardness of the scene as it slowly builds the story and the stakes. It felt almost jarring in the first episode, but also a welcome break from fast paced, fill every second, don’t leave the audience guessing narratives that tend to dominate the streaming services. These first two episodes of Ripley are filled with languid Italian afternoons, stilted conversations, and a sense of emptiness. By the second episode I was really enjoying this aspect, soaking up these moments of quiet and awkwardness. The real-time feel that this pacing provides also instils a slightly ominous vibe, as the darker elements of the story gradually build.


I found myself very drawn to the ambiguity of the antihero - is he a crafty yet somewhat inept con-artist, making mistakes and slipping up with details? Or, is that part of his intricately formed facade, lulling the Greenleafs and the audience into a false sense of security and sympathy. It is a truly enticing mix and I’m looking forward to seeing it play out through the rest of the series. Andrew Scott feels like the perfect casting choice - with his particular brand of understated yet undeniable charm. We know this character and this story - it’s based on a popular book, the 1999 film adaptation was a huge commercial success, and yet I found the way he plays the character is keeping me guessing and bringing an appealing sense of suspense to a story that I do actually already know. It’s a clever and subtle approach to a remake. He's keeping the audience guessing. We know we’re being conned, but we don’t know to what extent. 


Whether or not it’s genuine, the vulnerability of Andrew Scott’s Tom Ripley gives us a character that simultaneously has nothing and everything to lose. One moment that really stood out for me, and shows how to pack a lot of information in with zero exposition, is the dressing gown. Before going to Italy to find Dickie Greenleaf, Tom is sent to a ritzy department store by Dickie’s mother to get some clothes for her son. Tom chooses a dressing gown, despite the attendant’s attempt to dissuade him from his choice, he is adamant it’s the right one. However, Dickie is appalled by it and we briefly see Tom’s face - utterly crestfallen. In just this moment we are told everything about Tom’s motivations - it is not just money that he is after, but social status, class. This comes through heavily in the second episode where we see his suburb mimicry skills, and how effortlessly he can slip into character and accurately replicate a person’s voice, speaking style, and mannerisms (again, Andrew Scott is incredible and we must protect him at all costs) he wants to be someone else, and not just for a grift. 


Ripley is a beautiful example of how sometimes less is more and silences unfilled speak volumes.

16 views

Recent Posts

See All

Comentarios


bottom of page