Geschrieben am 1. Juni 2024 von für Crimemag, CrimeMag Juni 2024

Nick Kolakowski: Smoking Gun (24) – The new »Ripley«

The Newest ‘Ripley’ Series is Stunning and Flawed

Just last month, I was bemoaning a lack of “pure” noir series on American television. The main target of my ire was “Sugar,” an Apple TV series about a detective cruising the mean streets of Los Angeles after a missing girl—only for the plot to suddenly veer into science fiction, complete with space aliens. I almost tossed my TV controller across the room.

However, the universe must have heard my complaints, because a few days later Netflix rolled out “Ripley,” a very expensive, eight-part adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “Talented Mr. Ripley.” It stars the British actor Andrew Scott and sticks close to the source material: a young conman named Tom Ripley travels to 1960s Italy to find Richard Greenleaf, the playboy son of an American shipping magnate. Ripley finds Greenleaf and develops an unhealthy attachment to him, which leads to murder and mayhem.

Highsmith wrote several Ripley novels that have been adapted to the screen multiple times over the past several decades. I’ve always had a soft spot for “Purple Noon,” in which Ripley was played by Alain Delon; “The American Friend,” with Dennis Hopper, is likewise a fun jaunt. On a pure filmmaking level, this new “Ripley” stands out as perhaps the best-looking, with black-and-white cinematography that makes every shot look like a Cartier-Bresson shot; the textures of Rome, Venice and the Amalfi Coast really pop.

The aesthetic is the best thing about the series. The acting—or the decisions behind it, rather—is where I run into trouble. If anything, the new “Ripley” series has given me a newfound appreciation for Matt Damon’s performance in “The Talented Mister Ripley” (1999), in which he played the titular character as smarmy and frantic. It’s easy to feel sympathy for a striving hustler who’s in a little too deep, especially given Damon’s charisma; that the film’s primary killing is portrayed as more of an accident also helps his case. 

Andrew Scott’s Ripley, by contrast, is a cold-blooded murderer, applying judicious blows until his target stops moving for good. That might align him more with Highsmith’s rendition of the character, but it also drains away any possible sympathy you might have for his position. By itself, that wouldn’t necessarily turn off the audience—plenty of people enjoy watching psychopaths do what they do best, especially if they’re funny. John Malkovich recognized this when he portrayed an older Ripley in “Ripley’s Game,” strutting around like an irate rooster, spitting out deadpan lines to everyone within hearing range. 

Except Scott’s Ripley isn’t funny. He’s also a bit of a moron when it comes to covering up his crimes; one sequence with a runaway motorboat was probably meant to be suspenseful, for example, but it comes off as more of a Wile E. Coyote routine. That he emerges from the series unscathed seems more of a comment on the incompetence of the Italian police than his own skills.

None of this is entirely Andrew Scott’s fault. He’s a charming, versatile actor, and if he’d played Ripley with the same vaguely unsettling warmth that he applied to his priest character in the second season of “Fleabag” (2019), the result might have been compelling: a killer conman you can’t help but love. No, a decision was made to have him play Ripley as a dead-eyed blank. Near the end of the series, there’s a hint that he’s becoming more comfortable with his position, more in control, more of a master of manipulation—but just a hint.      

Is the series worth watching? I would say yes, despite my issues with how the character is portrayed. It’s rare to have a production like this, especially in glorious black and white. If anything, I like to think that Highsmith would have enjoyed it. 

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Nick Kolakowski is the author of „Maxine Unleashes Doomsday“ and „Boise Longpig Hunting Club“ as well as the Love & Bullets trilogy of novellas. His noir fiction has appeared in Tough, ThugLit, Mystery Tribune, Plots With Guns, and various anthologies. His „Payback is Forever“ (Shotgun Honey 2022) is inspired clearly by the novels of Richard Stark. Our review here (in German). – See also his Hell of a Mess. A Love & Bullets Hookup.

Nick Kolakowski, geboren 1980, aufgewachsen in Washington. D.C., hat Geschichte in Chicago studiert. Er schreibt Romane, Kurzgeschichten, Lyrik und Essays, viele davon über Crime Fiction und verwandte Themen. Seine Texte erscheinen u. a. in der Washington Post, in Shotgun Honey, North American Review, The Evergreen Review, Rust & Months. Kolakowski lebt in New York City. Eine Besprechung des von Parker inspirierten „Payback is Forever“ in unseren Bloody Chops.

Bei Suhrkamp auf Deutsch: Love & Bullets.
His essays with us

His website nickkolakowski.com

His column „Smoking Gun“ with us: 
‘Sugar’: Not the Neo-Noir Revival We Need
Moral Redemption in Noir: Is It Possible?
What Makes Jack Reacher Tick?
‘True Detective: Night Country’ Tries to Make the Familiar into Something New
Is David Fincher’s ‘The Killer’ a Comedy? 
Rewatching ‘Drive’: Gosling as Noir’s Apex Predator
Elmore Leonard  – City Primeval
Cormac McCarthy Used Crime Fiction’s Tropes to Make Masterpieces
Parker: Donald Westlake’s One Amazing Trick
Cosby, Winslow, Pruitt: Three Heavy-Hitting Thillers for Summer
Weed-Based Crime Thrillers are Going Up in Smoke
‘The Last of Us’: Crime in the Post-Apocalypse 
What Made “Glass Onion” and “Knives Out” So Popular?
Jordan Harper’s One-Two Punch of Crime Fiction Deserves a Wide Audience
‘True Detective’ Season 2: Was It Better Than We All Thought?
From ‘Touch of Evil’ to ‘True Detective,’ Long Shots are Crime Films’ Secret Weapon
Michael Mann, again: What Michael Mann Teaches Us About Enduring Crime Fiction
„Heat 2“ – How Do You Craft a Sequel to a Masterpiece?
4 Ways Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Novel Stands Out From the Film.
On „Heat“: Manhunter Takes Down Thief: How Michael Mann’s Early Career Led to ‘Heat’
The Most Honest Nihilism – on „The Way of the Gun“
No, Time to Die – The latest James Bond movie digs into the fatalism at the iconic spy’s core.
Cormac McCarthy’s Overlooked Masterpiece? – „The Councelor“
Nightmare Alley“ – How Guillermo del Toro’s Film Alters a Masterpiece Noir Novel
David Cronenberg – The Carnal Crime of “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”
With Parker, Donald E. Westlake Pulled Off Crime Fiction’s Most Spectacular Magic Trick
Guy Ritchie’s Return to Crime Films is Worth Watching

 

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