The American Friend ★★★★

Germany in the 70s on film, like New York City, holds a certain decrepit charm for me. Although its economy was booming there is still a grayish, dull hue. The skies seem always overcast, the ground slick with mist and rain and there's the sense of a very long post-war hangover. You'll occasionally see a very old medieval or Gothic building next to an empty lot where rubble has been removed next to brutalist architecture. Wim Wenders captures the port city of Hamburg at this moment in The American Friend.

Nice-guy picture framer Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz) witnesses an auction of a painting, suspecting it's a fake (rightly) and that a Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), an American with a shady reputation, may be behind this scheme (also rightly). When he refuses to shake his hand, his fate is sealed. Ripley is involved with no-goodniks who want an underworld guy dead and when they suggest he kill this fella, he comes back with a counter offer: have Zimmerman the framer do it instead. You see, Ripley has reason to believe the nice-guy is a terminal leukemia patient. Off-put by his hand shake sleight, he asks colleagues 'what gives with this guy?' and hears rumor of his imminent death. “What better hit-man, an innocent with incentive to leave his family with a large endowment.”

Things of course don't go as Zimmerman planned. The hit went too well and his task masters want another job done, having the nice-guy framer on the hook. Meanwhile, Ripley has been visiting Zimmerman in his shop to have a picture framed ostensibly. He is author Patricia Highsmith's Mr. Ripley, the highly functioning sociopath and con artist, and he is curious about this nice-guy picture framer who refused to shake his hand upon first meeting. Over the course of time they strike up a friendship and when on Zimmerman's second job while en route to Munich, Ripley reveals himself as the source of the rumor that started him on this scheme. Events aboard the train draw the two men closer, now more of a dependent relationship when Ripley bails him out of the hit, but killing two others in the process.

Bruno Ganz is simply extraordinary and those wide, open eyes of his conveys hope, love, desperation all at once. Lisa Kreuzer is excellent as wife Marianne Zimmerman who knows her husband better than he knows himself. Jonathan's fatal flaw here wasn't giving Ripley the cold shoulder, it was not trusting and respecting the one person he could count on and confide with. This is one of the great neo-noirs of the Seventies and would make a nice pairing with another 1970s West German crime movie albeit a lighter-toned caper flick $ (Dollars). Kudos to Wenders for using Kinks music and making Zimmerman a fan. During his most anxious moments he sings himself their “Too Much On My Mind” from Face To Face.

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