In 1974, Wim Wenders, an independent German filmmaker, tried to acquire the rights to Patricia Highsmiths book, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Wenders took a train to Paris from Hamburg to meet Highsmith at her house, only to find out that the rights for the book were already bought when he arrived. After befriending Highsmith during this day-long trip, Highsmith offered Wim the rights to a book she had not yet published. The book was called Ripleys Game. Wenders immediately fell in love with the book and adapted it into a screenplay. In 1977, Der Amerikanische Freund was released. Starring Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz, the Ripleys Game adaptation was met with favorable reviews and gained back its 3 million dollar budget.
Der Amerikanische Freund, translated to The American Friend, is a beautiful look on human morality and the internal fight of a family man/picture-framer who has just been diagnosed with a rare blood disease . The movie is patient with itself, one of its biggest strengths. The movie runs at a strong pace, letting every event play out as it should, unlike most of the big Hollywood Blockbusters we see nowadays.
As the two lead actors, Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz's chemistry on the big screen doesn't sparkle, it quietly explodes behind each of their introverted personalities regardless of the language barrier. According to Wim Wenders, Ganz and Hopper loathed each other at the beginning of the movie shoot. Ganz didnít speak much english and Hopper didnít speak any german. When Hopper showed up on set, he had not memorized any of the screenplay so when it came time to shoot he would improvise his lines when he forgot them. Ganz, not being able to understand him, got tired of it and punched Hopper in the face. When shooting resumed the next day, the two actors showed up to set, having spent the whole night at a bar, as the best of friends. This translates on screen so perfectly. Each character has a tension and standoffishness towards each other, yet they also become inseparable friends by the end of the movie.
Shot by cinematographer, Robby Muller, we see beautiful compositions of 70s Hamburg and Paris in a subtle, sophisticated frame. Vibrant but muted colors and simple lighting burst out of every cell of the 35mm film and run across every image like a painting. The film balances really quiet and personal moments with great moments of suspense and action. The action is unlike anything you see in movies nowadays. The scenes play out in real time, bringing in the audience and feeling the tension and nervousness that the main characters would feel if they were right next to them. The music by Jrgen Knieper has the capacity to shake the audience to the bone with its high-pitched strings, while also being able to warm you during tender scenes.
Another great feat of the movie is Ganzs characters relationship to his son. We get amazing sprinkles of Ganz and his son and their relationship. We see the son imitating his father and these moments of such beautiful reality between them that you donít usually see in movies. Like the scene where Ganz walks into his sons room at night and he catches his son pretending to sleep and turns on his nightlight. Or the scene where Ganz is walking with his son through the streets of Hamburg, his son in a raincoat and big rubber boots. These scenes help humanize Ganzs character and really drive home any of his motivation throughout the movie. Dennis Hopper also gives an eccentric but perfectly subdued performance as Tom Ripley. Sporting a cowboy hat, he portrays the perfect con-man who is finally searching for true human connection within Ganzs character, Jonathan.
Wim Wenders was able to direct a beautiful and sophisticated look into human nature and at the same time make a really well-paced and entertaining thriller-drama. Its a quiet, humble, and realistic movie that doesnít hold any cliche moments and keeps you feeling for the characters during the entirety of the movie. The movie understands the story and delivers above and beyond what movies of this nature usually do. Der Amerikanische Freund is a must see for any lover of movies.
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