Patricia Highsmith’s 1953 novel, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, is about wanting a life that is just out of reach and doing anything to make it yours. For Tom Ripley, a young working-class boy allowed to travel to Italy, this wanting is homoerotic — and eventually turns deadly. Translating that desire onto the screen is something that several filmmakers have tried, from the 1961 French film “Purple Noon” starring Alain Delon, one of the biggest stars of the French New Wave film movement, as the cooly narcissistic titular character, to Matt Damon in 1999’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” — a performance that took him away from the affable, do-gooder roles he would become known for, transforming him into something much more sinister. 

Each adaptation has had its unique take on Highsmith’s material. Each one helped fix Tom Ripley into a unique place in cinema history — a uniquely deadly and sexy character brought to life by movie stars in their prime. Netflix’s new miniseries, simply titled “Ripley,” seems to want to take that legend away from the character and strip him down to his simplest self. This is further supported by the fact that in this adaptation, Ripley is not played by a young smoldering star, but by middle-aged actor, Andrew Scott.

The series seems to have that goal in mind as it starts with Ripley’s life as a petty criminal in 1961, filled with wide shots punctuating the hollowness of his day-to-day existence. Then it all changes when Mr. Greenleaf, a wealthy man who mistakes Tom for one of his son’s friends, pays for him to go to Italy and convince his wayward son to come back home. But slowly, Tom becomes obsessed with the young rich Greenleaf, who possesses wealth Tom can only dream of. A strange psychological obsession begins, with Tom slowly taking over the identity and mannerisms of the younger Greenleaf — all culminating in a tragic finale. 

The series’ black and white cinematography is gorgeous and evocative of 60s noir films, complete with overhead shots of subways and men in trenchcoats skulking about late at night. These stunning shots are a world away from the bland style that seemingly permeates every Netflix original. But trouble also lies in the beauty of the cinematography. Every shot is so stunning that it demands to be taken in fully and admired. This need to notice it all prevents the audience from being fully immersed in the story and creates a strange tonal dissonance between the somber grandeur of the series’ visual language and the thriller it’s supposed to be.

The cinematography can only engage the viewer for so long as they wait for the series to fulfill that implicit promise, to strip away the glamorous mystery of Ripley and see him for what he is. The first two episodes are a frustrating chore, as the series takes its time to get Tom to Italy and introduce him to Dickie Goodleaf and his girlfriend. It isn’t badly paced, but it’s frustrating to sit through when multiple adaptations have filmed this story much more economically. The long, sweeping stills are inspired by films of the 60s, but, in the context of a miniseries, they become a slog. This is not a story that needed ten episodes. 

But the length of the story could be forgiven if it were leading somewhere different than the previous adaptations of this story – if it did allow us to recontextualize Tom Ripley the way the series seems to imply it would. But Scott’s performance does not feel all that different from previous adaptations with the lack of the magnetic intensity typical of movie star charisma. In a television era that is more open to seeing the stories of queer characters, especially bad queer characters, there is more the series could have done with Ripley, but it doesn’t seem willing to go there. There were countless opportunities to help the audience view Tom Ripley differently, but the miniseries ultimately becomes a tired, lengthier retread of previous adaptations.

Verdict: With no new insights to draw about Tom Ripley, this adaptation ultimately becomes a slideshow of pretty black-and-white images.