Friday, November 09, 2018

The American Friend

Based on the novel Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith, Der amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) is the story of a con artist who convinces an ailing picture framer to take part in an assassination scheme. Written for the screen and directed by Wim Wenders, the film is an unusual noir film that play into a battle of wits that would eventually form into an unlikely friendship. Starring Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, and Gerard Blain. Der amerikanische Freund is a riveting and intoxicating film from Wim Wenders.

The film revolves around an American con artist, whose work in art forgeries, has him traveling to Hamburg where he meets a dying picture framer who he believes can carry an assassination job for another man. It’s a film that plays into a man who is trying to create a scheme about an assassination he wants to take place with another man as he feels slighted by this picture framer he met at an auction. Wim Wenders’ screenplay follows the world that Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) is in where he cons people into buying paintings for lots of money when they’re actually forgeries as he goes to Hamburg from New York City to sell a forgery where the picture framer Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz) notices the painting is a forgery that people are over-paying for. Zimmerman knows who Ripley is as he refuses to shake his hand prompting Ripley to turn to a fellow criminal in Raoul Minot (Gerard Blain) to use Zimmerman as an assassin for a rival that Minot wants dead.

For Zimmerman who is dying from leukemia and is health is failing, he would receive news that his health is worsening where Minot approaches him about doing a job and would get certain health benefits and money in return. Yet, his wife Marianne (Lisa Kreuzer) is suspicious about Zimmerman’s trips to Paris and Munich as the story progresses with the former having him going to a hospital where they would send Marianne false medical notes which Zimmerman had no clue about thinking he would be fine. Upon the job that Minot would have Zimmerman do, it does give Zimmerman a sense of life although things become more complicated when Minot wants Zimmerman to do another job without Ripley’s knowledge who is becoming fond of Zimmerman.

Wenders’ direction does bear some visual style reminiscent of suspense and film noir yet much of what he does is straightforward. Shot mainly in Hamburg, Germany with additional locations in Munich, Paris, and New York City, Wenders would play into a world that is vast as it relates to the kind of operation that Ripley is involved as he lives mainly in New York City but went to Germany for business knowing he can make serious money through forged paintings made by his friend Derwatt (Nicholas Ray). Wenders’ direction definitely emphasizes some simple compositions in his approach to the framing where he does use close-ups and medium shots to play into the interaction between characters as well as the scenes at the metro in Paris where Zimmerman is going after his target as it’s dialogue-free in order to play up the suspense. Even in the way Wenders would move the camera to see Zimmerman and his target move from one metro train to another as well as the sense of geography in the metro stations with some wide shots to get an idea of where Zimmerman can kill this man though there’s cameras at the station that can see what is going on.

Wenders’ direction also maintains that intrigue into what is happening with the suspense as well as Ripley’s visits to Zimmerman’s shop as the former wants the latter to create a picture frame for one of the forgeries. Even as it play into a growing friendship between Ripley and Zimmerman as the former is aware of the latter’s illness and wants to help him as he would be involved in this second assassination that Zimmerman is supposed to carry out. The film’s third act has Wenders take great advantage of the locations and its scope where it does play into a friendship that is growing but also revelations about Zimmerman’s ailing health and Ripley’s own involvement into these assassinations prompting the latter to take control as well as to try and make things right for Zimmerman and his family. Overall, Wenders craft a gripping yet somber film about an American con artist who gets an ailing German picture framer to carry out an assassination.

Cinematographer Robby Muller does brilliant work with the film’s colorful and ravishing cinematography as its usage of natural lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes as well as available and stylish light for some of the interiors including the scenes at night. Editor Peter Przygodda does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of jump-cuts while mainly aiming for a straightforward approach with the rhythmic cuts to play into the suspenseful moments of the film. Art directors Heidi and Toni Ludi do fantastic work with the look of Ripley’s home as it has appliances that are covered while Zimmerman’s home doesn’t have much space though his son’s bedroom is full of cool toys and appliances.

Costume designer Isolde Nist does terrific work with the costumes from the denim-like look of Ripley with his cowboy hat to the more casual and reserved look of Zimmerman. Sound mixers Milan Bor, Max Galinsky, and Martin Muller do superb work with the sound in the way trains and ships sound from outside a building as well as what goes on inside the metro stations that help play into the suspenseful moments of the assassination sequence. The film’s music by Jurgen Knieper is incredible for its mixture of piano and strings that help play into the drama with its lush string arrangements that also add to the film’s suspense while its soundtrack features mainly music from the Kinks that is played in parts of the film.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Andreas Dedecke as Jonathan and Marianne’s son Daniel, Sandy Whitelaw as a doctor trying to help Zimmerman, filmmakers Samuel Fuller and Jean Eustache in their respective cameo roles as an American gangster and a friendly man on the train, Lou Castel as Minot’s associate Rodolphe who makes sure Zimmerman does the job, and filmmaker Nicholas Ray in a small yet terrific performance as Ripley’s paint forger named Derwatt. Gerard Blain is fantastic as the French gangster Raoul Minot as a man that wants Ripley to kill a rival gangster only to turn to Zimmerman for the job and later trying to get Zimmerman to do more of his dirty work.

Lisa Kreuzer is brilliant as Zimmerman’s wife Marianne as a woman that is trying to understand where her husband is going believing something isn’t right upon getting messages from his doctor while is also suspicious about Ripley. Bruno Ganz is incredible as Jonathan Zimmerman as a picture framer who used to make forged paintings that is dealing with leukemia as he’s trying to cope with his illness as well as what he’s being forced to do where it’s a low-key yet somber performance that has Ganz sing a lot of British Invasion songs to deal with his situation. Finally, there’s Dennis Hopper in a phenomenal performance as Tom Ripley as this con man trying to get Zimmerman to kill as revenge for slighting him only to become fond of him as he later tries to help him as it’s an offbeat yet charismatic performance from Hopper.

Der amerikanische Freund is a sensational film from Wim Wenders that features great performances from Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz. Along with its ensemble cast, Robby Muller’s gorgeous photography, its study of manipulation and redemption, and its beautiful music score. It’s a film that doesn’t play with the conventions of suspense in order to study the motivations of two men who are connected by carrying out an assassination only to try to connect through the simple ideas of life. In the end, Der amerikanische Freund is a spectacular film from Wim Wenders.

Related: Purple Noon

Wim Wenders Films: (Summer in the City) - (The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty) - (The Scarlet Letter (1973 film)) - Alice in the Cities - Wrong Move - Kings of the Road - (Lightning Over Water) - (Room 666) - (Hammett) - (The State of Things) – Paris, Texas - (Tokyo-Ga) – Wings of Desire - (Notebook on Cities and Clothes) – Until the End of the World - (Faraway, So Close!) - (Lisbon Story) - (Beyond the Clouds) - (A Trick of Light) - (The End of Violence) - (Buena Vista Social Club) - (The Million Dollar Hotel) - (The Soul of a Man) - (Land of Plenty) - (Don’t Come Knocking) - (The Palermo Shooting) - (Pina) - Salt of the Earth - (Every Thing Will Be Fine) – (The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez) – (Submergence) – (Pope Francis: A Man of His Word)

© thevoid99 2018


Chris said...

I agree about the performances. A strength of the movie was I never knew where the story was heading as the characters sometimes make odd choices.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-I too had no idea where it was going as I knew it wasn't going to be straightforward nor conventional yet I was still surprised at what I saw. I found it odd to see Dennis Hopper play a role that was made famous before by Alain Delon and later Matt Damon and John Malkovich yet he made it work.