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West Germany/France, 1977
Directed by Wim Wenders
Starring Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gérard Blain
Screenplay by Wim Wenders
DCP. Approx. 127 min.

Dennis Hopper’s enigmatic Yank expatriate inveigles good-hearted German loser Bruno Ganz into international chicanery in Wenders’ garishly-colored adaptation of Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game, with elements from other Ripley thrillers. Auteur legends Nick Ray and Sam Fuller appear in memorably offbeat cameos.


“(Wenders) challenges us to admit that we watch (and read) thrillers as much for atmosphere as for plot. And then he gives us so much atmosphere we’re almost swimming in it; his 1977 movie was the most expensive production to date from the German New Wave, and one of the most visually rich.”
– Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Like TAXI DRIVER, THE AMERICAN FRIEND was a new sort of movie-movie — sleekly brooding, voluptuously alienated and saturated with cinephilia. (The film), which was shot by Robby Müller, may rival TAXI DRIVER in its rhapsodic visual panache but, although violent, it is less brutal and more melancholy. (Some sequences suggest the visual equivalent to a Kraftwerk ballad on the sad beauty of neon lights.)”
– J. Hoberman, The New York Times

“Superb adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game, with Hopper as her amiably cynical hero, asked to find a non-professional for a killing or two, and -- in echo of Strangers on a Train -- drawing an innocent family man (Ganz) into the game by persuading him that the blood disease he is suffering from is not merely incurable but terminal. Good Highsmith, it's even better Wenders, with Ripley, an American expatriate in Germany, first seen keeping a rendezvous with a dead man, then confiding his disorientation to a tape recorder ('There is nothing to fear but fear itself... I know less and less about who I am or who anybody else is'). Ripley, in other words, becomes the quintessential Wenders hero, the loner travelling through alien lands in quest of himself, of friendship, of some meaning to life.”
– Tom Milne, Time Out

"It is the characters that produce Highsmith's stories, not the other way around. Usually in crime fiction characters are shaped by plot and action; they are products not producers. Her stories spring from the fears, the petty cowardice and tiny acts of misconduct so familiar to everyone that you hardly observe them in yourself. As you read her novels, you learn about yourself. An innocuous little lie, a convenient self-deception gradually swells into a sinister tale, whose pull you can't escape because you understand it so well."
– Wim Wenders, The Logic of Images: Essays and Conversations (1991)

Film Forum