You've probably seen lot's of movies about gansters, the mafia, wars, cruelty, violence, explosions, bang-bang your'e dead. In the American Friend Wim Wenders shows his own enormous love for cinema and also his zoom into the workings of the human mind. A man has reason to suspect he is about to die. He appears to be a relatively normal husband who loves his wife and child. An underworld character approaches him saying he will pay him generously if he kills one or maybe two "criminals" and, sure, the money will go to the man's wife on his death.
There is Ripley (Dennis Hooper), the wealthy American living comfortably in Hamburg, Germany, making a fortune in an artwork forgery scheme, bidding generously on forged paintings produced by an accomplice, artificially driving up the price. At one such auction he meets Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz), a picture framer dying of a rare and unspecified blood disease. Tom is approached by an associate, a French criminal called Raoul Minot (Gérard Blain), who asks Tom to kill a rival gangster.
"Listen," Tom says, "I know rock musicians. I know lawyers. I know art dealers, pimps, politicians. But murder? I don't want to be involved. Period."
Minot does not give up, claiming Tom owes him something. So Tom dedicates himself to spreading rumors about Jonathan's illness, paving the way for Minot's approach and the offer of a great deal of money if he accepts to kill the man and, well, that will bring money for his wife and son when he dies.
At first, as in the case of any person with ethical principals, Jonathan turns down the offer, but subsequently becomes increasingly distressed thinking about his death and the situation of his family. Minot arranges to have the results of a medical examination altered to make it appear that death is near and thus influence Jonathan to kill his rival. But there is a twist. Tom and Jonathan, have become somewhat attached and come to a secret aggreement...Well the rest of the story the reader will have to discover watching the movie!
Following the showing at a unique old building in San Telmo there was a lively discussion among the more than 50 viewers who packed into the room. "I suspect there is a political angle to the film but I don't know what that might be," said a young lady. "No, I don't see anything political in the movie," said another, "for me it is a police style movie, a masterpiece."
Perhaps it depends on what we consider politics to be all about. Another viewer brought up the ethical issue of an apparently normal individual who slips gradually into criminal acts with the excuse of benefiting his family after his death. But the deaths increase, as in Macbeth, as in war, as in the most naked struggles for power. Is that not political? What happened to good husbands and wives in fascist Germany or in Argentina or in any situation of extreme repression? The choice: close your eyes to a violent abuse of ethics and human rights, or struggle against it and face the consequences. Perhaps there is another: submit to what you consider unethical acts in exchange for your personal security or that of your family.