The American Friend

The American Friend ★★★★

Wim Wenders strays far from the conventions of the thriller genre with The American Friend, turning in an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game that plays like a muted psychological drama more than anything else.

Ripley is played here by Dennis Hopper, but he's not the film's central character. That would be Bruno Ganz's Jonathan Zimmermann, a Swiss picture framer with a terminal blood disease. Zimmermann snubs Ripley at an auction, but days later is visited by an acquaintance of Ripley's, Raoul Minot, and tasked with travelling to Paris to murder an American gangster. The methodically paced film focuses on Zimmermann's state of mind throughout these events, from his despair at discovering that he has little time left to live to his contained calm during the hit, only after which does the prickly relationship between Zimmermann and Ripley develop into something different.

Highsmith's Ripley novels have been adapted for the screen several times, and although his motivations seem always to be unclear, what is apparent is that he's a psychopath. With that in mind, the notoriously erratic Hopper was a natural fit, and he turns in a characteristically unnerving performance. Ganz has the harder job, and he carries it off with subtlety and consistency; the viewer is always inferring what's running through his mind, a sure sign that his performance works. Wenders' stately direction makes for something that is simultaneously compelling and distancing, meaning that while I don't understand the plot, the feel is what I'll remember.

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