Sat February 22, 2003
The Quiet American
This film is not quite the success that brilliantly terse novel promised,...
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Graham Greene understood the American penchant for taking the Marshal Plan to its limits. Even in the '50's he knew in his novel "The Quiet American" that the American presence in Indochina, where the French were losing control, would be powerful and doomed.
Enter Brendan Fraser as the American idealist Thomas Fowler in Philip Noyce's film of the same name. Watching him and the winds of war is Michael Caine as a war correspondent for the London Times named Alden Pyle. Noyce's film emphasizes the romantic triangle with those two men and the inscrutable Vietnamese beauty, Phuong. Phuong as metaphor for the kept mistress of the French and Fowler as the US are a bit too obvious to be truly impressive. Even the parallel to "Casablanca's" triangle and obvious allegories makes this film look like it suffers from dramatic anemia.
Fraser is a weak-acting choice because he has difficulty with nuances and emotions when it comes to love. As an American agitator attempting to disrupt the corrupt political machine of Saigon, however, he is much better. Caine is more natural as the boozing newsman watching the world change. His voiceover is unparalleled: As he did for "Cider House Rules," he gives gravity and melancholy to the events.
Christopher Doyle's cinematography is lovely--the river at night with its eerily passing boat lights reminds me of some quieter "Apocalypse Now" shots and emphasizes the darkly seductive world of South East Asia.
Greene has given life to Foreign Service. Hollywood's "Quiet American" adaptation is like the US of the Vietnam War: never really belonging there but a presence you can't ignore.
This film is not quite the success that brilliantly terse novel promised, perhaps because like America, it never really understands why it is there. But the film does well reflect Greene's interest in the vagaries of friendship and the inevitable clashes between youth and old age and idealism and realism.
I sure wouldn't want to try to capture the lyrical Greene on screen. Noyce does an admirable job.
John DeSando vice-chairs the board of The Film Council of Greater Columbus and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.