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THE QUIET AMERICAN -Directed by Phillip Noyce

Phillip Noyce’s 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 Phuong’s ‘charms’. A married man with a wife back in London Fowler had wholly adopted Phuong’s 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 Noyce’s 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 film’s shooting in 2001- yet retaining his strength as a virile male icon. Living in a dream-world, partly fuelled by opium, Fowler’s 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 Phuong’s affections was all along. His triumph over youthful ardour and innocent niceties comes at the cost of his soul.

© Alex Grant Feb 7th 2003

Rabbit Proof Fence
Philip Noyce film about abducted children in Australia is tale of courage and shame.

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