Friday, 11 May 2012

The American Friend

"He'll never bring The Beatles back to Hamburg"

Loosely based on the novel Ripley’s Game and made by German Director Wim Wenders under the title Der amerikanische Freund the film stars Bruno Ganz (Downfall, Unknown) as Jonathan, a picture framer with a terminal blood disease. Jonathan meets a wealthy American Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) who deals in art forgery. Jonathan, knowing what Tom does wants nothing to do with the American and initially refuses to shake his hand. Later, Tom is approached by a French criminal named Raoul (Gerard Blain) who asks Tom if he is willing to commit a murder against a rival gangster. Tom refuses but suggests Jonathan as he has no connections and may be willing to do the job for money so that he has something to leave his wife (Lisa Kreuzer - Kings of the Road) and young son after his imminent death. Jonathan reluctantly agrees after being manipulated by the criminals but his actions set him and Tom on a path towards destruction.

The plot was often incomprehensible and was wildly improbable but this was almost forgotten due to the enormous amount of tension and intrigue. The plot takes a back seat in a way, in favour of creating the emotions and apprehension surrounding it. I found it unlikely, even for a dying man, that Jonathan would go along to Paris and kill someone for some gangsters who he didn’t know and the final third made no sense whatsoever but the rest of the film though was delightful.

The two central relationships in the film felt heartfelt and real. Lisa Kreuzer was excellent as Jonathan’s concerned wife. It was obvious that she cared a great deal for her husband but wasn’t going to put up with lies and deceit. The fact that Jonathan was willing to travel Europe as a hired assassin in order to provide for his family after his death showed that the feelings worked both ways. The second relationship between Tom and Jonathan changed several times during the film. Beginning with distrust and hostility then towards feelings of mutual respect and admiration and back again, their relationship twists and turns throughout. You always have the feeling though that Jonathan is being taken advantage of, even when it appears that he is not. The characters were all well drawn and the relationships were rich. Jonathan and Tom’s buddy relationship was often strange but always satisfying.

One of the things I liked about the film was its setting, Hamburg. Jonathan and his family live near the docks or the German city and the streets reminded me of New York in Taxi Driver. They were sort of run down and forgotten but with obvious vibrancy. Much of the city was still flattened by the bombs of thirty years before and this added to the feeling of desolation and waste. The film was also shot on location in Paris and New York, something unusual for the time outside a Bond Film or something similar. I also really enjoyed how the film slipped between English and German in such an effortless way. It was barely noticeable and added realism.

The acting was superb throughout. It is such a shame that Bruno Ganz is best known for saying silly things on YouTube as he is a fantastic actor with over fifty years experience behind him. Dennis Hopper was really cool as the American abroad and was excellent in the role and as I’ve already mentioned Wenders regular Lisa Kreuzer was also brilliant. The fact that all three actors performed in two languages just adds to their excellence.


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