The American Friend ★★★½

As an initial point of clarification, The American Friend (1978) is an adaptation of the third “Ripliad” novel (Ripley’s Game) by Patricia Highsmith, which was adapted again in 2003 with John Malkovich in the title role; Purple Noon (1960) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) were adaptations of the first in the series; and Ripley Under Ground (2005) is an adaptation of the second novel.

At the beginning of The American Friend, we find Dennis Hopper's paranoid and lost Thomas Ripley pawning off the work of a purportedly dead painter (played by director Nicholas Ray). But the change in title is apt since this is really the story of art framer/expert, Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz), who first evokes Ripley’s ire, and then his friendship. If you have any experience with the Ripliad narratives, such a friendship can be – well, let's just say, complex. Director Wim Wenders takes it slow in drawing out the desperate humanity of Zimmerman, adding an existential flavor to a plot that even has a genre-appropriate train motif. (Highsmith’s first novel was Strangers on a Train.) The American Friend is not only essential viewing for fans of neo-noir, but is also indicative of the evolution and breadth of the New Hollywood influence. Notwithstanding the Hamburg/Paris setting, it’s difficult not to feel a certain kinship with The French Connection (1971) and Chinatown (1974).

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