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The American Friend Reviews

Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz are superb in Wim Wenders's THE AMERICAN FRIEND, a gripping Hitchockian thriller based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz), a Hamburg picture-framer and painting-restorer who's suffering from an incurable blood disease, meets Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), an American who sells forged paintings in Germany and knows about Jonathan's illness. Because of a perceived slight when the two were introduced, Ripley spreads a rumor that Jonathan's death is imminent, and suggests his name to a criminal associate named Minot (Gerard Blain) who's looking for a non-professional hitman to dispose of his rivals. Jonathan refuses, but changes his mind as his anxiety over his condition increases; he carries out Minot's assignment, shooting a man in the Paris subway. Back in Germany, Minot pays him only half of the proposed fee, telling him he will give him the rest after he performs another killing. THE AMERICAN FRIEND is a moody and riveting thriller-cum-existential character study that pays homage to the American cinema, not only by its casting of Wenders's two directorial cult-heroes, Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller, but also through direct stylistic and thematic references to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, who had made one of his best films, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) from a Highsmith novel. Wenders handles the thriller aspects of the plot expertly, making it possibly his most accessible film. He also treats the story as an ironic commentary on the influence of American culture on Germany and the uneasy relationship between the two countries, as well as a personal meditation on the acts of looking and seeing. Hopper gives one of the best performances of his career as the devilish Ripley, driving around spouting philosophy into a tape-recorder. Ganz is equally superb as the tortured Jonathan, and both actors brilliantly play off the other's differing acting style. Wenders has categorized THE AMERICAN FRIEND as simply an "entertainment film," but it's a richly textured and deeply rewarding one.