The Quiet American
By Rebecca Redshaw
Sometimes quotes just jump off the screen.
When Jack Nicholson mutters, “Is this as good as it gets?” from the movie with the same name, you may nod your head in agreement.
Mid-way through GONE WITH THE WIND, when Scarlett vows, “Never to be hungry again” you get the distinct notion the lady knows of what she speaks.
And when Bette Davis tells you to, “Fasten your seat belt,” in ALL ABOUT EVE
you damn well better buckle up.
So, when Michael Caine’s Vietnamese officemate says, “Sooner or later, Mr. Fowler, one has to take sides, if one is to remain human,” you would think the proverbial light bulb would brighten. Alas, this is not the case.
By the time this line is uttered, this viewer didn’t care what happened one way or the other. What a shame. Timing is important and the timing couldn’t be more right for a story about ethics of war.
Based on the Graham Greene novel, THE QUIET AMERICAN is set in Viet Nam before American involvement. Or maybe not. Caine, as Thomas Fowler, is an established journalist enjoying the life of a writer far from his London wife and London office. He spends his days and nights doing little else than enjoying the company of Phuong, a beautiful young woman. Emphasize young.
Life is idyllic in Fowler’s world, then along comes young and roguishly handsome Brendan Fraser as Alden Pyle. Fraser has done some fine work in his career (particularly GOD AND MONSTERS), but his portrayal of a quiet American would be better titled THE BORING AMERICAN, or better yet, THE BLAND AMERICAN.
It’s not Fraser’s fault. Most of the time he’s sharing the screen with Caine just seems to get better and better. He dominates the screen with sensitivity and pathos even when he isn’t given much to do.
Director Phillip Noyce opted to make a movie about a love affair that dabbled in political intrigue. If he had only swapped plot lines, emphasizing the intriguing politics. (Imagine if Alan Pakula had made ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and emphasized the bunglers that broke into Watergate rather than the bigger picture? “Follow the money.”)
Politics and power are fascinating and the stuff of which nail biting thrillers are made.
In a time when freedom of speech is blatantly censured, when government papers are sealed to protect cronies, when saying what you believe can cost you work or friendships or both, it’s a shame to squander the opportunity to reveal truths.
THE QUIET AMERICAN will soon be released on DVD. If you want to see genius portraying historic irony, rent Arthur Miller’s fictional work, THE CRUCIBLE and then brush up on the McCarthy era papers.
If history repeats itself, you may find yourself on the cutting edge of the future with little romance in sight.