the quiet american. a murder mystery and love triangle set against the french indochina war in 1952 vietnam. it’s based on the 1955 graham greene novel of the same name. for a subtly anti-american film, i quite enjoyed it. it’s great moviemaking but beware, also great propaganda. excellent acting by michael caine (he got a best actor nomination) and engrossing story, though i hated the hypocritical, conscienceless nature of the caine character. here’s the basic story: a british journalist(caine as thomas fowler) in saigon befriends an american(brendan fraser as alden pyle). the american falls in love with his vietnamese mistress and can offer her youth, marriage, and america. the brit is a senior citizen with a wife in england, who won’t divorce him. the american, who is more than the idealist medical aid worker that he seems, is found dead at the beginning of the movie and the movie proceeds to show us the events leading up to the murder. we find that fowler is implicit in the american’s death. but he is the moral hero because we are to believe that the american is a terrorist killing innocent civilians in the name of uncle sam. a bombing that actually happened is the turning point in the “awakening” of the fowler character.
the fowler character was semi autobiographical it seems, since greene spent time in saigon as a journalist, smoking opium and screwing prostitutes. i haven’t read the novel, which is said to be more anti-american than the movie, but he supposedly portrays the american even more like a caricature than the movie did. the choice of names for the american(pyle) is telling as well. and he even gives his book a nicer ending in that fowler gets the divorce he asked for from his wife. this, so he can offer marriage to his mistress, a good 40 years his junior. the left leaning reviewers call this film “timely” because of its parallels to america’s war in iraq. an indictment on america’s meddling in world affairs. that’s a stretch. weren’t the french and the british the colonialists? we, the anti-communist, anti-colonialist, and idealist americans are painted as the bad guys. this should offer some insight into mr. greene:
But as David Thomson notes in the excellent essay on Graham Greene in his invaluable ‘The New Biographical Dictionary of Film’, “Greene once said he’d rather live in the Soviet Union than in the United States.”
“to be human is eventually to have to choose”. that’s the big “statement” of the movie. well, besides conniving in a murder, i say history tells us that fowler chose wrong. jeff mcmurdo sums up the choice that the caine character makes in his article titled requiem for the “quiet american”:
vietnam and communism should be ….judged against the relative prosperity, freedom and independence of their U.S.-supported neighbors; Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea. An unlikely vindication of the quiet American came from a former Viet Nam war era draft-evader. Prior to his visit to Hanoi in November, 2000 President Bill Clinton declared in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, “The twentieth century resolved one big question, I believe, conclusively. Humanity’s best hope for a future of peace and prosperity lies in free people and free market democracies governed by the rule of law.”
yes, the real “message” is what happens after greene’s story ends.