The American Friend
A CURZON FILM
This adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game is dominated by the electric interplay of Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper.
Ganz plays Jonathan Zimmermann, a picture framer with a terminal medical condition. Through a series of encounters and machinations, he accepts money to kill a criminal in order to support his family after his death. He is aided by Tom Ripley (Hopper), an art forger. Unbeknown to Jonathan, Ripley is behind all the plans. However, the criminal and borderline sociopath’s feelings towards Jonathan eventually change and he feels a responsibility to take care of his new friend.
Wenders’ neo-noir is a far cry from the previous adaptation of a novel featuring Highsmith’s most famous character. René Clément’s Plein Soleil, a 1960 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley was all sun and glamour. (As was Anthony Minghella’s 1999 version.) Wenders’ take on the third novel in the Ripley series – which also used an element of the plot from the second, Ripley Under Ground – is grittier. And in Dennis Hopper, Ripley is a far more unsettling figure. The actor allegedly arrived on set high as a kite and was not the easiest person to work with. But his performance exudes a menace that Hopper would later develop into the terrifying presence that is Frank, the psychopath who dominates David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Ganz, by contrast, plays Jonathan with a subtlety that makes his transformation as the story progresses all the more unsettling. Their odd-couple relationship is the lynchpin of the film, one of the few adaptations of her work that Highsmith admired.