The American Friend Review

Image for The American Friend

Sociopath Tom Ripley manipulates picture-framer Zimmerman into carrying out a murder contract. As always with Ripley and his victims, a semi-symbiotic relationship develops and the American steps in to help the patsy carry out a second, more problematic killing.


A fascinating mix of director Wim Wenders and author Patricia Highsmith, this also offers a collision between the acting styles of improvisational Hollywood maverick Hopper and buttoned-down Swiss-German stage star Ganz. The result is an almost hypnotic suspense film set in an international blur of subway stations, hotels, trains, empty streets, beaches and concrete flyovers, populated by enigmatic, haunted, suspicious and suspect characters.

Adapted from Ripley’s Game, the third of Highsmith’s series about cold-

hearted crook Tom Ripley (with a tiny, important bit lifted from the second book, Ripley Under Ground), this harps on Highsmith’s habitual themes of a transference of criminal identities that involves a supposedly ordinary man in murder. Wenders, always a contemplative director, does strange things with the noir aspects (casting a lot of fellow directors as the bad guys) but the observational, character-based approach makes the suspense-thrill sequences extremely powerful when they show up. The stalking on the metro and the assassination on the train are perfect Hitchcockian set-pieces, and the finale – which involves a red Volkswagen and a sudden, unexpected but inevitable end to the friendship – remains a kicker.

But the film gains power from its quieter moments, often putting its two leads on screen alone, Hopper fiddling with snooker balls on a plastic-covered table or Ganz tinkering with gold leaf in his shop. By refusing to explain Ripley, this gets closer to Highsmith’s character than any other film version – though Hopper adds enough detail of his own to make his Tom a distinctive character quite unlike the one in the books.

Bruno Ganz is excellent as the victim deceived into committing murder.