Wim Wenders' mines Dennis Hopper's real-life experience as a painter and collector in this existential take on the American gangster film based on a Patricia Highsmith novel featuring the notoriously sociopathic Tom Ripley. Hopper stars as the eponymous American, currently a middleman selling the work of American painter Derwatt (Nicholas Ray), who has feigned his own death to increase the value of his paintings. While auctioning this work in Berlin, he meets art restorer Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz), who he learns is suffering from an incurable blood disease. When a shady friend (Gerard Blain) requires Ripley to find a "clean" non-professional to do a contract hit in order to pay off a debt, even he is reluctant. But he quickly realizes that the physically vulnerable Jonathan would be perfect for the job, and tries to get him to accept by employing various subterfuges to persuade him that his condition is even worse than it is. For his part, Blain guarantees the restorer that his family will be financially secure for life, and a deal is struck. As usual, nothing works out quite as expected.