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The American Friend

Ismael Alonso , Grard Blain , Wim Wenders    Unrated   DVD
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 73.41
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A thriller that's nearly devoid of thrills? That's not a complaint--it's what makes The American Friend one of the most stylish (and, at the time, most expensive) films to emerge from the New German Cinema of the 1970s. Loosely adapting Patricia Highsmith's mystery novel Ripley's Game, director Wim Wenders shifted priority from plotting to character, emphasizing a richly colorful and atmospheric approach to locations in Hamburg, where a picture-framer (Bruno Ganz) is lured into an assassination scheme involving a mysterious Frenchman (Gerard Blain) and the titular American friend, Tom Ripley (played by Dennis Hopper, a far cry from Matt Damon's portrayal of the same character in The Talented Mr. Ripley). The plotting is vague to the point of irrelevance; Wenders prefers to maintain the aura of mystery, as opposed to generating any conventional suspense, and expresses his affection for American movies by casting favorite directors Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller in pivotal supporting roles. The result is an intoxicating example of cinematic cross-pollination. --Jeff Shannon

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Win Wenders' masterpiece May 14 2004
Format:DVD
It's in many ways not fair to entitle this film as just a film noir.
I state that because , first at all remember. we are talking about of Patricia Highsmith , one of the most gifted minds in the north american literatute. If you analyze all her literaries works, as Strangers on a train,(Hitchcock) or A plenn soleil(Rene Clement), you'll find all the characters are envolved in a cosmical trick. It's true that the hopeless who surrounds establishes an anticipated fate in all their actions. But what Highsmith adds in every work, including the american friend is the lack of any kind of feeling or ethical consideration carried to a level that they become in models. I mean, it's very hard for us to find by instance, with a character as Mr. Rippley in any street of any city in the world. These characters are not common.
That's the most remarkable virtue in Highsmith and Wenders so Clement and Hithcock understood and exploited this item like few.
Wenders,one of the three kings of the german filmography in the seventies, (together with Fassbinder, Herzog, and Hauff), knew how to deal with that and make a clever twist in an age where the key works of the neo film noir, a genre that slowly was left and replaced by thrillers with little trascendence.
This film , in my point of view, made grow up to Dennis Hopper, not only as actor, but as a filmmaker. (Remember his best work as director titled Colors).
This film is eternal. And that means just one thing: it's a masterpiece. And obviously, it will resist the years and far of getting old, it will enrich us, every time we watch it.
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Format:DVD
The American Friend is a particularly trenchant example of Wim Wenders' favorite theme--the outsider in a different culture (cf. The Buena Vista Social Club--Ry Cooder in Havana; Until the End of the World--William Hurt's American character in Europe). Only in this case, the outsider, Dennis Hopper--the American friend--ruins the life of the insider, played by Bruno Ganz.
But that's what noir is all about. Based on one of the Ripley novels by American ex-patriate author Patricia Highsmith (no doubt her ex-pat status appealed to Wenders), the film follows Jonathan Zimmermann (Ganz) in his descent into Noirville via Tom Ripley (Hopper) and Ripley's "partner" Minot, a sinister French man. This time out, unlike in the 1960 film Purple Noon (THE best cinematic version of Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley--far better than the recent version with Matt Damon), Ripley is an edgy guy (what else could Hopper be?--especially in 1977 when he was coked to the gills) who deals in art forgeries.
Along the way we meet an artist who does the forgeries, and that's famed director Nicholas Ray in a great role. Ray is one of Wenders' heroes--maybe his biggest hero--and he's here in his glory--sad single eye partnered with his trademark eyepatch, gaunt face and all. Three years later, Ray died of cancer. We also meet a gangster played by another of Wenders' favorite directors, Samuel Fuller. But Fuller's part is smaller than Ray's, which says something...
This is a perfect exemplar of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. Zimmermann's one desire to take care of his family results in his being coerced into dark deeds that ultimately leave Zimmermann emotionally destitute.
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Format:DVD
The first chilling moment in this film is when relatively poor and struggling art framer and cultured European (Swiss) Bruno Ganz is introduced to art dealer American (Dennis Hopper)) Tom Ripley at an art auction, and refuses to shake his hand. From that moment, Mr Ganz is more or less doomed. One theme of this film is the clash between two cultures, or at least two attitudes to art, money versus art, the contempt each has for the other. Another theme is how thrilling it would be to kill anyone who makes a fool of us in public. From the moment of the slight, the doomed Mr Ganz is slowly brought to his end - the mis en scene becomes a horror show of ordinary things made threatening, seagulls, art frames he works on he starts bumping into, a television set which is off zaps him with static electricity when he touches it, he stumbles in to objects whilst waiting for a train, the doodling on a piano by a "medical student" gangster becomes an atonal nightmare. The moment when Mr Ganz breathes onto the finest piece of gold leaf we can see him realising the breath of life is so precious, but he's losing it and he knows it.
A stunning cinematic experience. A masterpiece and perhaps the finest transformation of Ms Highsmith's many Ripley adaptations, notwithstanding Mr Hitchcock.
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5.0 out of 5 stars With friends like these. . . . March 4 2003
By A Customer
Format:DVD
One of the best adaptations of a Patricia Highsmith novel (*Ripley's Game*) ever filmed, and one of Wim Wenders' best movies, too. But, according to the commentary on this DVD, Ms. Highsmith was originally aghast at Wenders' treatment of the story -- it's a very loose adaptation -- and of the character Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper in a cowboy hat, a figure radically different from the suave manipulator in the book). As the years passed, she apparently grew reconciled to the movie on its own terms, and why not? -- the themes of the seductiveness of evil and of the abyss yawning below any "normal" person's life are rigorously limned in *The American Friend*. And Wenders brings some ideas of his own to this material, most notably the distasteful spectacle of a dominant world power and culture (e.g., the United States) crassly pirating the leavings of an older civilization (e.g., European): a way of life and thought, even a fraudulent version of it, is available to the highest bidder only. Above and beyond the intellectual stuff, the movie also happens to have several suspenseful stretches. Best example: the scene where the modest picture-framer from Hamburg (a never-better Bruno Ganz), having been roped into being a hitman due to the machinations of an insulted Tom Ripley, ineptly tails an American gangster through the subterranean Paris metro. Ganz needs the money for his family, but he's in bad health (a heart condition), and can barely stay alert while fighting anxiety attacks and physical exhaustion. Great stuff! Also of note is a prolonged and quite humorous assassination attempt aboard a speeding bullet train. (Hopper and Ganz share swigs from a flask and giggle at each other while guarding the murder scene -- the lavatory -- from discovery. Read more ›
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