Ripley - Photo Netflix
Ripley – Photo Netflix

The idiom “Everything old is new again…” can be applied to writer/director Steven Zaillian’s sensational new noir Netflix series “Ripley,” based on Patricia Highsmith’s pulpy, best-selling novels.

Sociopathic antihero Tom Ripley (Andrew Scott) is a down-on-his-luck grifter in 1961 New York who is hired by a wealthy shipping magnate to travel to Italy to try to convince his prodigal son Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn) to return home. 

Tom’s acceptance of this lucrative job opens the door to a labyrinthine life of crime. As soon as he arrives in the picturesque coastal village of Atrani, he begins to ingratiate himself with entitled Dickie, much to the annoyance of his resentful girl-friend Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning), who is suspicious from the get go.

“I’m not someone who takes advantage of people,” Tom claims when, in fact, that’s exactly who he is.

At Dickie’s villa, Tom learns about art, culture and beauty, particularly the distinctive use of light and shadow by Italian painter Caravaggio. He resents the intrusion of Dickie’s snobbish pal Freddie Miles (Eliot Sumner) and cleverly matches wits with Police Inspector Pietro Ravini (Maurizio Lombardi).

Traveling along the Amalfi coast to Rome, San Remo, Palermo and Venice, quick-witted Tom is a consummate con-man, a conniving cheat capable of committing brazen art theft, mail fraud, forgery and brutally murdering multiple people.

Graham Greene aptly described author Patricia Highsmith as a “poet of apprehension.”  By having Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”) film in austere black-and-white, Oscar-winner Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “The Irishman”) gives an artistically stunning, noir essence to her murky, malevolent story.

Prior to this Netflix series, there have been five films about Tom Ripley; perhaps the most memorable is Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999), starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. Others include “Purple Noon” (1960), “An American Friend” (1977), “Ripley’s Game” (2002) and “Ripley Under Ground” (2005).

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ripley” is a tantalizing, tension-filled 10 – with all eight episodes now streaming on Netflix.

Shogun - Photo FX
Shogun – Photo FX

Back in 1980, American TV audiences were glued to their sets for five nights to watch “Shogun,” James Clavell’s best-seller about feudal Japan, starring Richard Chamberlain.

Now Hulu is heralding a new 10-episode miniseries with Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, a British navigator marooned near a tiny fishing village in early 17th century Japan. His mission is to open up that Asian archipelago to the English.  

Up to this time, trade in Japan was monopolized by Portuguese merchants who kept its location top-secret, using their mercantile presence as an excuse to baptize compliant Japanese into their Roman Catholic faith.

Arriving at the outset of the Protestant Reformation, Blackthorne – determined to undermine papal persuasion – is caught in the middle of a war between the maneuvering samurai clans led by wise Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) and duplicitous Lord Ishido (Takehiro Hira). In addition, ex-royal consort Lady Ochiba (Fumi Nikaido) bears a familial grudge against Toranaga.

Japan’s supreme ruler is dead. His heir is a child, so a Council of Regents of five feudal lords is in charge, led by Toranaga, who views Blackthorne as a potential asset, as do his vassals – Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano) and Yabushige’s nephew Omi (Hiroto Kanai).

Amid the culture clashes, political plotting and brutal bloodshed, Blackthorne finds forbidden love with his unflappable interpreter Lady Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), an unhappily married Catholic noblewoman who tactfully calibrates her translations.

There’s a great emphasis on authenticity – with much of the dialogue in Japanese with English subtitles. Blackthorne’s character is based on real-life navigator William Adams and Lord Toranaga modeled on Tokugawa Ieyasu, who helped unite Japan, introducing a period of peace that lasted for 260 years.

Adapted/created by Justin Marks and his wife Rachel Kondo, the sumptuous production was designed by Helen Jarvis with Carlos Rosario’s lavish costumes. The showrunners cleverly enlisted Shakespearean-trained Sanada (“Bullet Train,” “John Wick, Chapter 4”) as producer as well as leading actor.

FX Network chief John Landgraf said it took a decade to get the compromises and choices right, noting FX could never have made this miniseries had it not been bought by Disney, which has aimed the series at a 21st century streaming audience.

FYI: “Samurai” refers to the warrior class, bound by sworn duty to a code of conduct, like medieval knights. And “Shogun” is the supreme military commander.

On the Granger Gauge, “Shogun” is an ambitious 8, streaming on FX and Hulu with the finale airing on Tuesday, April 23.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.