American Friend, The (1977)

The American Friend (1977), directed by Wim Wenders.

The talented and amoral Tom Ripley has a good thing going, commissioning "newly discovered" paintings from a supposedly dead artist and bidding them up at high-end auction houses.

An associate wants a favor: two small time hoods need to be whacked. I don't think we are ever told what that's all about.

Overhearing a conversation during an auction, Ripley conceives a cunning plan: to offer a dying man a payoff to be an amateur hit man. He gets to leave something for his wife and little boy. Resisting at first, might he actually find it exciting and meaningful? And does Ripley just leave him to it, or has he actually made a new friend, one that needs help?

I remember being befuddled by this one when I first saw it, probably because I wasn't expecting an actual thriller plot. All the other early Wenders I had seen had been light on plot and heavy on improvisation. Back then he seemed to be the sort of director who grabs a camera and hits the road with friends to make a movie out of whatever they find along the way.

(It was sometime in the late 1980s: a Blockbuster just a few blocks over actually had a huge foreign film section and -- I'm not kidding -- a Wim Wenders shelf. I saw them all, and would try them again given the chance. They've been hard to find on DVD, but I see Criterion has a set of three early films scheduled for Blu-ray in 2016).

Knowing what to expect, it makes more sense now, although I'm still confused by the aftermath of the murders: the ambulance, bandaged man, etc.

The most notable aspects of this treatment:

It uses a common thriller theme: we like Zimmerman, but do we want him to do the murders or not? We can't help sharing his tension and anguish as he approaches and fumbles the deed itself.


Available on a rather lovely Criterion Blu-ray. A commentary track from 2002 features a quiet, friendly conversation between the director and Hopper. Many good stories.