Murder in Black and White

The latest, creepy, The Talented Mr. Ripley 

Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley has been made into a movie twice, the more recent attempt, in 1999, featuring Matt Damon in the title role. Watchable as they both are, neither film adaptation comes as close to capturing Highsmith’s dark, unsettling story of a young conman who turns to casual murder as does the new Netflix series Ripley, an eight-parter that debuted April 4. 

First off, Andrew Scott is deliciously creepy as Ripley, so much so my wife almost couldn’t watch it after a couple episodes (though she couldn’t look away, either). What keeps even the easily unnerved from bailing is that cinematographer Robert Elswit shot the entire series in black and white so luscious that every scene looks like an art masterpiece. The sheer photographic beauty traps you in the show’s unrelenting, claustrophobic suspense. “I know it is great and gorgeous, but the story makes me so unnerved I cannot watch it,” New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz posted on Instagram. “Watched the first episode jumping out of my skin — yelling at the TV.”

Set largely in Rome, this Ripley sticks close to Highsmith’s story while alluding to the deep shadows of film noir classics of the 1950s and ’60s. It adds, as a character, Baroque painter Caravaggio, a murderer himself, who pretty much invented that noir look with his dramatically lit scenes of the dark side of Catholic iconography and the underbelly of Roman nightlife. Also added: a scene-stealing Maine Coon house cat named Lucio, as in Lucifer, who makes repeat appearances at key moments in the drama. A must-see.

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