The American Friend, Blu-ray (1977/2016)

One of the best films by German director William Wenders.

The American Friend, Blu-ray (1977/2016)

Director: William Wenders
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer
Studio: Wm. Wenders Foundation/Janus Films/The Criterion Collection 793 [1/12/16] (Distr. by Orange Media)
Video: 1.66:1 for 16×9 screen, 1080p HD color
Audio: German, English & French DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English
Dubbed: French & German
Extras: 2002 commentary track by Wenders & Hopper, New Wenders interview, New Ganz interview, Deleted scenes with commentary by Wenders, Theatrical trailer, Illustrated booklet with essary by author Francine Prose
Length: 126 min.
Rating: ****1/2

Wenders says in his interview that he wanted to make films of various books by Patricia Highsmith (who died in 1995) but they were all already optioned. Several of her novels have resulted in films, beginning with Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Finally she gave him a new one and this is it. Wenders substantially altered the book, which is the third in the Tom Ripley series. Hopper plays Ripley and is The American Friend, and Bruno Ganz plays a naive Hamburg picture framer. (Ganz is not German but Swiss.) They are two exceptionally different protagonists. In the extras Wenders explains that at the start they hated one another and actually fought – bloody noses and all – but eventually the actors became the best of friends.

Ripley and his cohorts convince the framer (who has a heart condition) that he is close to death, and rope him into being an inept hit man for them, in order to leave his wife and child a lot of money. Naturally his wife suspects something because he won’t tell her why he’s going to Paris. Ripley joins the framer on a speeding bullet train, and together they murder a couple more men and throw them off the train. There’s even some humor in the action at this point. But all the time Ganz fights anxiety and physical exhaustion. I frankly got lost towards the end, but Wenders was able to get various directors such as Sam Fuller, Jean Eustache and Nicholas Ray to play cameos as gangsters in the film. Hopper makes a unique sort of villian, but not nearly as monstrous as he was later in Blue Velvet.

—John Sunier

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