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THE AMERICAN FRIEND

Director: WIM WENDERS

W. GERMANY-FRANCE • 1977 • COLOUR • 123 MIN


IT’S NOT SURPRISING THAT PATRICIA HIGHSMITH DIDN’T WARM TO THIS ADAPTATION OF HER NOVEL RIPLEY’S GAME, WHICH OMITS MUCH OF HER INTRICATE PLOTTING AND CHANGES RIPLEY FROM A CONNOISSEUR CRIMINAL INTO AN URBAN COWBOY.
Still, all the changes are part of Wenders’ grand strategy, which is the transformation of a psychological thriller into an ambitious allegory about the Americanisation of modern Germany. When asked by an underworld colleague to nominate an amateur assassin for a contract killing, Ripley (Dennis Hopper) petulantly nominates pictureframer Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz), who has insulted Ripley at an auction. Zimmerman is astounded to be approached but sorely tempted because he is dying of leukaemia and reckons the money will support his family. What follows has the intensity of film noir, as Wenders plays with the genre components of weak heroes, shadowy visuals and an overriding tone of social and philosophical pessimism. All this is crossed with the emotional resonance of the buddy movie, in which a bond is formed between a death-haunted downbeat and a midnight cowboy.

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