What Does Every Sociopath Need for a Life of Upscale Grifting? A Triumphant Theme

Netflix has released the first track, “Leaving New York,” from the “Ripley” score by composer Jeff Russo. Steven Zaillian’s eight-episode limited series, a noirish, black-and-white adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s crime novel, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” streams April 4, which coincides with the score’s online release. (Listen to the jaunty track below.)

Andrew Scott (“All of Us Strangers”) stars as sociopath Tom Ripley, who grifts his way from ’60s New York to Italy, obsessed by a life of leisure when he meets Americans Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), a vagabond painter, and writer Marge (Dakota Fanning).

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“Leaving New York,” which features the ascending interplay of piano with cello and violin, evokes Tom’s escape from a bleak existence as a petty con artist. The style is timeless rather than retro and classical instead of jazz. “I wanted to create something memorable [that] appears throughout the show to connect Tom’s journey,” the Emmy-winning Russo (“Fargo”) told IndieWire. “From a thematic point of view, all of the music is Tom’s theme, and so this particular theme represents little bits of winning on his quest to graduate from petty criminal.

“He starts to live this life [in Italy] that he’s never seen before, and he doesn’t want to let it go,” Russo continued. He approached New York as a musical deconstruction of Tom’s psychosis later on. “Steve is really smart when it comes to [scoring], and he suggested to me as I was writing Episode 1 that I take a look at Episode 7 and start writing for there. And that might inform what I do for Episode 1. That’s where I wrote ‘A Venezia,’ which informed many of the things that you hear in Episode 1. That’s a bridge between how he’s going to get from New York to Italy.”

Ripley. Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in Episode 101 of RIPLEY. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024
‘Ripley’Courtesy of Netflix

Russo described “Leaving New York” as an interplay between Tom and the other characters in the outside world. “I really wanted to take a deep look at how music could be this dance for Tom and how every time he finds himself trapped,” he added. “And he has to figure out how to get himself out of it. Tom has to make this person believe one thing, and this person believes another thing, and sometimes they overlap. And I wanted to see how I could hand off between the piano playing it, and then the cello playing it, the violin playing it. At some point in a later version, flutes play and then the clarinet plays.”

Once Tom gets to Italy, Zaillian suggested that Russo think of Nina Rota and Ennio Morricone to get in the proper mood. “We wanted that Sicilian feeling, but we didn’t want it to sound like a ’60s movie or a modern thriller,” he said. The fact that the director shot it in black-and-white (lensed by “There Will Be Blood” Oscar winner Robert Elswit) and leaned into minimalism was an advantage for the composer, who didn’t want to romanticize the score.

“What makes it extraordinary is Steve’s ability to be minimalistic, but have it be maximum effect,” added Russo. “And I think the black-and-white makes it feel like something you would have seen from [the early ’60s]. There’s this beauty that you’re looking at, but it’s juxtaposed against no contrast of color. That’s very much in line with how this story plays out. I tried to do that with music as well.”

“Ripley” premieres April 4 on Netflix.

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