The American Friend

The American Friend ★★★★½

I'm most certain that once my time on the Earth is done, I'll be placing Wim Wenders somewhere in my top five directors. There hasn't been a single film by him I've seen yet that hasn't given me something new to ponder or of substance to embrace wholeheartedly. His stylistic grace that never leaves a dull frame and highly empathetic observations on all of life's movements has left him with a most loving place in the halls of cinema's best storytellers, and The American Friend is of particular noteworthiness. There's a wonderful melding of neo-noir character drama and suspense filmmaking on show that could only be achieved by masters, and that mastery extends to everyone in the film; particularly the two lead performances by Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley and Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Zimmerman. Hopper brings the sort of megalomania we've all come to love from his work, but in different obscure shades; quiet, manic, coked out, wise, lonely, and most importantly, seeking kinship. A Cowboy in Hamburg indeed. Ganz centers the film morally with his increasing internal crisis that unfolds. There's something about Ganz' face that brings out the most empathetic feelings possible throughout. Or maybe it's the pornstache, or the singing of English songs. Who the hell knows, but there's simply something about his handling of the material that sticks with you, even when Hopper is the scenery chewer of the two.

There's never quite been a combination of director and cinematographer like Wim Wenders and Robby Muller. Their work together meshes like clocks set to the exact time, right down to the last millisecond. The American Friend is a perfect example of this with its slick grit, camera movement that is graceful, and their focus on observing characters within both their physical environments, and their own emotional states. Fluorescent green lights over a pool table somehow match Hopper's Ripley so perfectly, just like every other choice throughout. The music is bombastic and works best when the film is travelling through its more suspenseful moments, and Wenders brings in American tracks every now and again to fill out the non-diegetic sounds in moments. It is here in The American Friend where his marriage between American elements and his European style become noticably more fused; a cultural synthesis, or perhaps invasion? Whatever it is, it works, and lord knows in the long run it goes to incredible heights in the years to come.

It's a sadness to know both Hopper and Ganz have since passed on, but their work here together is such a natural fit. Their chemistry is oddly touching, humorous and earnest. Bravo to all involved for this picturesque tale of mortality, morality, trust and friendship. Marvelous stuff.

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