Thursday, April 27, 2006

The American Friend

1977, Germany, directed by Wim Wenders (original title: Der Amerikanische Freund)

While The Talented Mr. Ripley gave Patricia Highsmith's character some mainstream cinematic exposure, European directors have had much more fun with Tom Ripley, whether in René Clément's Plein Soleil or here, in Wenders' take on the amoral but really rather entertaining anti-hero. Ripley (played by Dennis Hopper, still clearly recovering from the 1960's) isn't front and center here, though, in this tale of an ailing German picture-framer (Bruno Ganz, terrific) who is drawn into a murky netherworld when a crime boss convinces him that he is actually dying, and promises money to care for his family in exchange for a spot of murder. Ripley plays a kind of go-between, sniffing out especially vulnerable souls, and charming them into performing the most extraordinary crimes; there's a tremendous frisson every time Hopper appears on screen, and yet his Ripley remains utterly beguiling even after the knowledge of his actions. Like many of Wenders's movies, The American Friend spends much time on the move, as if the characters are constantly trying to outrun their own moral inadequacies. Wenders has fun casting his cinematic heroes in small roles (Sam Fuller, Nicholas Ray, Jean Eustache), while the DVD features one of those great 1970's-era Euro-trailers that reveals almost nothing about the movie.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States