Ripley and Sugar prove film noir is back – but there’s a catch

Chris Tilly

Film noir has pretty much disappeared from cinema screens, but thanks to Ripley and Sugar, the genre is back, just in a very different form.

Typical. You wait decades for a cracking film noir; then two come along at once, and with a catch that sets them apart from what’s come before.

The 1940s and ‘50s were the heyday of the genre, with movies from that era filled with cynical detectives in sharp fedoras investigating tawdry crimes involving deadly femme fatales. 

There was a resurgence decades later thanks to the neo-noirs of the 1990s, through movies like The Grifters, One False Move, The Last Seduction, Devil in a Blue Dress, Bound, and LA Confidential.

But it’s a very different cinematic landscape now; one where superhero movies, animated features, and sci-fi blockbusters dominate the multiplexes, leaving little room for low-budget thrillers to receive a theatrical release.

But film noir returned this week, just in televised form, with Ripley launching on Netflix and Sugar dropping on Apple TV. Both shows are currently flying the flag for the genre in ways that couldn’t be more different. Though we’re going into detail now, so beware of SPOILERS ahead…

Ripley changes from crime drama into film noir

Andrew Scott, as Tom Ripley, sitting in a car.
Andrew Scott as master manipulator Tom Ripley.

Ripley is an eight-part adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. You’ve likely seen the sun-drenched adaptations from 1960 and 1999, but the new Ripley – written and directed by Steven Zaillian – is shot in crisp black-and-white and is as cold and unflinching as the character at its center. This stylistic choice is clearly informed by French Expressionism, much like the film noirs of the past.

Andrew Scott plays Tom Ripley, and in the first few episodes, he’s very much a male femme fatale (we’d call him a butch fatale, but that description doesn’t really match the performance). Rich playboy Dickie Greenleaf falls for his charms early in proceedings, with grim repercussions during the scintillating third episode

Then, the series flips at the midway point, and a show that was chiefly concerned with Tom Ripley’s crimes transforms into a police procedural, as we witness the Italian police investigating those crimes. 

Police Inspector Pietro Ravini (Maurizio Lombardi) is the hard-boiled detective on the case, and he’s a classic film noir cynic, barely able to conceal his disdain for the American tourists he interrogates during his search for Dickie. Only for the joke to be on Ravini in the show’s final few scenes; a twist which also means that for Tom Ripley, crime pays, as it so often does in the best film noirs.

Sugar leans into the genre from the start

Colin Farrell in a car in Sugar.
Colin Farrell as private detective John Sugar.

The Apple series Sugar leans even more heavily into the genre. Colin Farrell plays the title character – the improbably named John Sugar – a private detective who also starts out in black-and-white, in spite of the fact that this is a contemporary show.

Sugar finds missing people for those who value discretion, and this colorless opening sequence – which plays out in Tokyo – indicates that we’re not only in a foreign land, but also in the midst of a throwback to a different time.

When Sugar is back in Los Angeles, the show adds color to the mix, but the nods to film noir become even more pronounced. Early in Episode 1, Sugar is given the gun that John Ford brandished in The Big Heat. While scenes from films like Gilda and Kiss Me Deadly flash onscreen throughout. A conceit that continues in Episode 2 via shots from Dead Reckoning and Knock on Any Door. All of which is reminiscent of Steve Martin spoof Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, though here the tone is deadly serious.

Sugar also features voiceover and flashbacks, two key film noir ingredients. When John is driving around town – past old houses, in his old car – we’re back to black-and-white, suggesting this really could be a different era. 

These are very specific creative decisions made by showrunner Mark Protosevich, and director Fernando Meirelles. With the show being described as “genre-bending,” by Apple, there may be more going on than meets the eye in this one. So, we’ll keep tabs on how closely Sugar stays tied to its movie influences as the series progresses.

But as it stands, Sugar is an entertaining TV drama, which like Ripley, delivers film noir thrills so lacking from cinema screens these days.

Sugar and Ripley are now available, while you can head here for more streaming options this month.

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About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: