by Douglas Messerli
The slightly sleazy, always sinister Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper)—a man who might be hired to do almost anything, as long as there is money in it—would never have bet that a loving, married man such as the Hamburg-native Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) would agree to become involved in such a brutally meaningless act as destroying the life of a man he has never met or even heard of. Ripley’s current scam is somewhat innocuous, as he shuttles between New York and Hamburg, couriering new paintings by the formally dead, but unceremoniously still-living, German artist Derwatt (Nicholas Ray) from his SoHo studio back to Germany to sell them as ever-diminishing remainders of the artist’s limited output.
Perhaps even more importantly, in the short time since he has first encountered the art framer, particularly after visiting him in his shop with the ruse of map that needs a frame—another contradiction in a film in which everything is presented in terms of oppositional forces—Ripley has immediately formed a bond with him. Indeed, these two men are opposites who, despite Zimmerman’s previous slight, are quickly attracted to one another, sharing ridiculous trinkets of heterosexual titillation which become almost a surrogate for what will soon reveal itself as an inexplicable camaraderie that borders on the sexual.