The Quiet American

2002, Movie, R, 101 mins

Review

QUIET AMERICAN, THE
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The second film version of Graham Greene's sad and prescient 1955 novel about American involvement in Vietnam hews far closer to the book than the first, preserving the sophisticated ambiguity of his depiction of a tangled struggle for power played out on both personal and political fronts. French Indochina, 1952. In the rural north, the French colonial government is under siege by communist Vietminh guerillas. But the fighting hasn't reached Saigon, where veteran journalist Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) maintains a cozy routine of tea at the Continental Hotel, occasional stories for The London Times and luxuriating in the attentions of his 22-year-old mistress, Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). Fowler's idyll is interrupted by two arrivals, of idealistic American doctor Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), who's attached to an official government aid mission, and a letter recalling him to London. If Fowler goes home he'll have to leave Phuong — his Catholic wife doesn't believe in divorce — and the fresh-faced Pyle seems awfully taken with Phuong when they all have dinner together. But Fowler finds it hard to dislike the younger man, who's conspicuously intelligent and apparently honorable, unlike the boorish opportunists who dominate the American community in Saigon. In a last-ditch effort to prove that The Times needs a man in Indochina, Fowler undertakes a dangerous journey north, where French soldiers are blaming communists for massacring an entire village. The story buys Fowler a reprieve (along with the expectation of further dangerous fieldwork) and further complicates his relationship with Pyle, who declares his love for Phuong while the two men huddle in a bunker, listening to shells explode overhead. The ensuing love triangle is a complicated one, and the increasingly volatile political situation in which the principals are enmeshed is equally complex. The strengths of Greene's novel are well served by this quietly accomplished film, which (unlike the 1958 version starring Michael Redgrave and Audie Murphy), doesn't shy away from identifying Pyle's connection to the American government. As an account of the circumstances that lead to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, it's strikingly well observed — Greene was a journalist as well as a writer of fiction. And Caine's performance as Fowler — who wants only to live out the last years of his life in the light of Phuong's love but is driven to abandon his lifelong commitment to impartial observation and get deeply involved with events beyond his control — is simply outstanding. The film's release was delayed for more than a year following the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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