Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Quiet American, a film by Phillip Noyce (2002)

Early 1950's: Vietnam is at war, the Communists against the French. The Americans are yet to get involved. Pyle (Brendan Fraser), the quiet American, has just been murdered. Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine), journalist for the Times of London is questioned: "I am not guilty". As the movie unfolds, my stance on that question changed. Fowler seems to be a very respectable chap, but maybe he's just in Vietnam for the sensuous delights it can provide. His newspaper certainly does not think he's working very hard: in an entire year, he has produced three pieces and they recall him. But Phuong, the beautiful young Vietnames woman is too much of a drawcard: "to lose her would be the beginning of death".

Unfortunately for Pyle she is something of a drawcard: it is love at first sight for him. Her feelings are not really disclosed, but she is concerned that Fowler cannot marry her (he is entangled with a Catholic wife who cannot divorce) and might leave her behind. On these practical matters, Pyle is a much better bet. So here is an initial motive for Fowler to kill Pyle, the oldest motivation of all.

Ironically, Fowler finds himself working harder than ever and with the biggest story possible on his hands: secret American support for the upstart new Vietnamese General, who would fight both the Communists and the French. The turning point comes in the famous bomb scene, when central Saigon is ripped apart by a number of car bombs, which take their victims in their naturally indiscriminate ways. Where does Pyle fit in to all of this? Fowler works it out. His assistant (I never quite worked out who this fellow answered to) has a plan for Pyle, but needs Fowlers help. Is the death of the women and children in the car bomb the reason he agrees, or is it to get Phuong back? Maybe good fortune and doing the right thing fortuously run hand in hand.

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2 Comments:

OpenID harvestbird said...

The character of the assistant in the film is a composite of three characters in the original Greene novel--the assistant (Dominguez) and two other men from the Viet Minh underground, which makes things a little clearer.

I enjoyed the novel but this is one of my favourite films. Michael Caine as Fowler seems much more sympathetic to me than Greene's original creation. If you haven't read the novel, I recommend it, and I would be interested to read your comparison of the two.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Thanks for the explanation. If I did read the novel, it was so long ago that I have forgotten it: I went through a spate of Greene reading when I was in school. I do have plans to read it, but who knows when that might happen.

10:41 PM  

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