The Quiet American
Production Company: Miramax
Director: Phillip Noyce (Australia)
Principals: Michael Caine, Brendan Frasier, Hai Yen Do
Rating: R (wartime violence, adult situations, glimpsed opium use)
By Lynne and Mardy DeMichele
“Sooner or later one has to take sides if one is to remain human.”
(UMC.org) -- It is 1952 and Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnamese Communists are fighting for independence from French colonial rule. In this dangerous context, the lives of a world-weary British journalist, Thomas Fowler (Caine) and an idealistic American medical worker, Alden Pyle (Frasier), intersect in Saigon. Fowler has been listlessly covering the conflict for the London Times and also living with a beautiful former taxi dancer, Phuong (Hai Yen Do).
The two men have widely differing political attitudes, yet they become friends. Stirred by Pyle’s idealism, Fowler says in voiceover, “He made me remember a time when I’d wanted to make a difference.” Soon, the young American falls in love with Phuong, creating a love triangle.
|Brendan Fraser (left) and Michael Caine's characters have widely differing political attitudes, yet they become friends in Phillip Noyce’s The Quiet American. Photo © Copyright Miramax Films|
As viewer, you care about all three people. They each possess a certain honor, but also serious human weaknesses that lead them to immoral acts that, in the end, leave one of them dead.
As the revolution heats up, we discover that Pyle is not what he seems and is connected to a third political element. At the same time, to avoid being pulled back to London by his editor, Fowler begins to do some in-depth reporting. In the process, his eyes are opened. Inevitably, the two men find themselves in conflict politically, as
well as romantically. Meanwhile, Phuong’s loyalties begin to look coldly opportunistic.
|A love triangle ensues when Hai Yen Do's character Phuong falls in love with Alden Pyle, leaving Thomas Fowler on the outside looking in. Photo © Copyright Miramax Films|
A horrific terrorist attack on civilians in Saigon Square enabled by Pyle’s covert action raises the age-old question; when do the ends justify the means? In voiceover, Fowler is heard during the film’s gorgeous opening shot of Saigon’s harbor saying, “You can be forgiven for forgetting that the war is happening.” By the end of the story, it is clear that one cannot forget. At film’s conclusion, a montage of strident newspaper headlines shows the subsequent U.S. escalation of the war in Vietnam.
The Quiet American was originally scheduled for release soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; however, Miramax Films postponed distribution due to concerns that its tone might seem anti-American. After a year on the shelf, the film seemed all but dead. But, due to Michael Caine’s personal lobbying, it was given a limited release last November, in time for Oscar consideration. Now, with a best
actor nomination for Caine, it is in wide release garnering almost universal praise.
|After a year on the shelf, the film seemed all but dead. Due to Michael Caine’s personal lobbying, it was given a limited release in time for Oscar consideration. Photo © Copyright Miramax Films|
The Quiet American is based on a book by Graham Greene. An earlier movie version downplayed the issue of American meddling in Vietnam, which reportedly enraged Greene. It was made in 1958 starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave. In this most recent film incarnation by Australian director Phillip Noyce, the title character of Alden Pyle is an effective metaphor for the idealism and naïveté – or even arrogance – of our nation as it works its will upon other, less powerful nations. But, to dismiss this work as anti-American denies history and misses its basic point. The film is about the horrors of war, and how easily a well-intentioned superpower can blunder into it.
Mardon DeMichele has been a filmmaker, professor and on-air critic. Lynne DeMichele is a professional writer, editor and former director of communications for the Indiana Area United Methodist Church.
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