It’s kind of hard to do a film noir in color. For one, the black-and-white cinematography is naturally associated with the genre, and all the blacks and whites help to smear the world together in gray, which seems to be the primary aesthetic for noirs; plus, it helps a lot with the shadows that are so prevalent in just about any noir. So when a film like The American Friend comes along, from the 1970s, that bills itself as a tribute to noir, I get a little apprehensive as to how it goes about accomplishing that, especially when it’s in color. Now, I probably shouldn’t be; Truffaut’s The Last Metro managed to pull it off beautifully, but within the first 20 minutes or so of starting Wim Wenders’ attempt at the same, I was unsure if I was indeed watching the right film.
The plot deals with a picture framer, played by Bruno Ganz, who only has a short while more to live, thanks to some sort of blood disease. He meets with an art forger, played wonderfully by Dennis Hopper, and through a series of circumstances involving the forger and an associate of his that wants the forger to commit a murder for him, the framer is coerced into thinking he has less time to live than he thought so that he will agree to do the murder instead. With this film, I saw the burgeoning touches of a filmmaker growing into his prime, through various shot choices and camera movements, but it wasn’t quite there yet. This wasn’t Wenders’ first film by a long shot, so I was expecting a little more from him than what this gave me, but if I were to delve any deeper in to it than that, I’d be judging this film on the merits of Wenders’ other films, most of which I have yet to see, which wouldn’t be fair to this film. As for the style choices, the noir influences are here, all right; it’s just isolating them so you can make them out that’s a bit troublesome. The film is built like any other film of the time, not like a noir, which is primarily why I didn’t take it for the tribute to the genre I saw so many people claim it to be. The one aspect that was squarely in the genre, however, was the score; always tense, always low and brooding, upping the sense of paranoia and suspicion in every scene it appears in. I liked it, for what it’s worth. Also, fun fact: After casting Dennis Hopper in one of the main roles, Wenders decided to similarly cast established directors in the supporting gangster roles, so keep your eyes out for cameos from such names as Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, and Jean Eustache.
This one had a few scenes that were highly entertaining, in a tense and unexpected kind of way, but the rest of the time was merely average. It was well constructed, I’ll give it that, but it didn’t have that greatness that I look for in films from the list. It was there, but it was very sporadic, very touch-and-go, and mostly only present in the assassination scenes. As a result, I’m not really sure how to recommend this, since ideally I’d like people to see certain scenes for sure, but they would have to sit through the whole thing in order to, and I’m not fully sure that the film as a whole is worth it. You could do a lot worse off than this picture, but this isn’t exactly a “rush out and see this” flick either; good cast, good score, and a few taut and suspenseful scenes, but that’s about it.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10