‘The Quiet American’

Director Phillip Noyce is officially on a roll. Early this year, his film “Rabbit-Proof Fence” came to theaters and now his new film, “The Quiet American,” is coming. Oddly enough, “Rabbit-Proof Fence” was made after “The Quiet American,” which Miramax has had shelved for the past year and a half. But once the movie picked up a lot of praise at the Toronto Film Festival this past year, Miramax scurried to get it released in time for the Oscar race.

Michael Caine has already been nominated for his portrayal of Thomas Fowler, the aging British journalist who’s at the center of the film. He’s married to a woman back in London, while living in Saigon during the French-Indochina War in 1952. Fowler is addicted to opium and is in love with a young Vietnamese woman named Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). Caine does an amazing job of showing the inconsistent manner of Fowler through his respectful/condescending ways with his occasional ally, Pyle (Brendan Fraser), the brash yet ostensibly innocent American aid worker. The dynamic of the two is constantly muddled between played out betrayals and trying to redeem their ever-faulting friendship, like children with short-term memories that last all of two days.

The majority of the film focuses on these two protagonists as they both vie for the love of Phuong; Fowler, being her lover, wants badly to marry her, but can’t and Pyle, the soft-spoken American, falls in love with her at first sight. Through the thickness of their emotional attachments, a lot of subtle deceits are shown and many more are hinted. Ultimately those deceptions lead to an explosive ending, where many are revealed to be other than what they seem to be; that’s the trick of the film. No one is who they seem to us and several don’t even turn out to be who they themselves thought they were.

Noyce does well in blurring the line between the mad suspicions of the war that have become common in the country and the developing idea that Fowler forms of Pyle and his co-workers. Soon enough everyone is dubious and few are left inconspicuous. This becomes all too perceptible when Pyle accidentally reveals that he speaks Vietnamese, a fact he lies about early on. Fowler’s intuitions, along with several clues, lead him to correctly suspect that his friend is a CIA operative creating a “third force” that supports the killing of civilians in order to create democratic control.

While the story is obviously important to the film, the factors that are most moving are the interactions and conclusions that each character comes to in “The Quiet American.” By the end, Fowler has, in several ways, corrupted himself through his feelings for Pyle and Phuong. Likewise, Pyle has knowingly hurt others in the name of a cause. The setting and conditions of these people go a long way to force their decisions and watching them unfold is what makes this film work so well.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

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