THE QUIET AMERICAN -Directed by Phillip Noyce
FILM REVIEW BY ALEX GRANT
Noyces oblique and mood-driven version of the 1955 Grahame
Greene novel THE QUIET AMERICAN, first filmed in 1958 with Michael
Redgrave and Audie Murphy, is a brave and timely reminder that the
U.S. government - when the World War Two spy-agency The Office of
Strategic Services ( O.S.S.) became the C.I.A. - actively promoted
terrorism in The Third World, financing subversives and wreaking
death and destruction on the streets of Saigon. Preying upon the
innocent to protect democracy.
Set in 1952 in Viet-Nam when French paratroopers, prior to the debacle
of Dien-Bien-Phu, were waging a losing battle against the Viet-Minh
saboteurs and rebels THE QUIET AMERICAN wages the worldliness, wise
and weary, of London TIMES correspondent Thomas Fowler ( Sir Michael
Caine ) against the can-do Yankee idealism of CIA operative Alden
Pyle ( Brendan Fraser ) ,who is masquerading as a do-gooder eye-specialist
healing the victims of trachoma in rural hamlets. In actuality Pyle
is the mastermind of a reign of terror. The film implies this overtly
from its start I am not being a spoilsport!
An seasoned old
press trouper, who takes pride in his objectivity as a journalist,
Fowler who has a very young local lover, former taxi-dancer Phuong (Do
Hai Yen), is forced to take sides; to recover his humanity;
by the intense father-son rivalry between Pyle and himself for Phuongs
charms. A married man with a wife back in London Fowler
had wholly adopted Phuongs homeland as his own corrupt volatile
Paradise on Earth.
At heart, the Greene original smoothly blends a murder inquiry with
a love triangle with acidic commentary on naïve by-the book U.S.
idealism run amok to stem the tide of creeping Communism
in South-East Asia. The film begins at the end and tells its frightening
tale of real-politik backwards. There is no attempt to create artificial
suspense and throughout Noyces delicate and incisive film the
director places character and motivation entirely at the forefront.
It is a shocking film where death is felt directly and shown fiercely.
Michael Caine speaks his mellifluously melancholy narration with touching
delicacy and he acts better than ever before, showing his age
68 at the time of the films shooting in 2001- yet retaining his
strength as a virile male icon. Living in a dream-world, partly fuelled
by opium, Fowlers fantasy-life is drenched with a sudden cold
shower of reality when he comes to understand that guileless innocent
Pyle is a cold-blooded spymaster, capable of any infamy in the name
of freedom. He comes to his senses but becomes as evil
in his covert actions as is his rival for Phuongs affections
was all along. His triumph over youthful ardour and innocent niceties
comes at the cost of his soul.
© Alex Grant Feb 7th 2003
Philip Noyce film about abducted children in Australia is tale of courage
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