Friday, March 5, 2010

The Quiet American. A

I'm not sure if 'The Quiet American' is a great movie on its own terms, or if it's because it's such an accurate adaptation of Graham Greene's novel (and one of his best). There is little in the book that is not in the movie, and everything-the acting, the script, the direction, the technical details-evoke the sinister, yet romantic mood of Greene's book. The movie's backdrop is Vietnam, where America is getting more involved with the conflicts that eventually led to the Vietnam war. The time is 1951. Thomas Fowler, played by Michael Caine, is a British journalist covering the situation. He has a wife back in Europe, but he's having an affair with Phuong, a young Vietnamise girl. He's also met Pyle (Brendan Fraser), the 'quiet American' who's idealistic, naive, yet very intelectual. When he meets Phuong, he instantly falls for her, forming a love triangle. Now the interesting thing about this story is that it opens with a detective questioning Fowler about Pyle's death. Fowler, who narrates the story, then goes back and we see how the events unfolded. 'The Quiet American' is full of moral and political uncertainty. The central characters are all flawed, while the movie itself, like the book, does not take a stance on the war in Vietnam. This perhaps is a testament to Greene's own feelings at the time he wrote the book. Greene covered the situation in Vietnam as a journalist, so I would think that everything we see in the film regarding the war is based off his experiences. Later in his life Greene supposedly supported communism. When he wrote the story I'm sure he had mixed feelings about it, which explains why story is neither pro nor anti communist. Besides the story, I loved 'The Quiet American' for the way it was made and for the well-rounded performances. Visually the movie is very simple. Christopher Doyle masterfully captures Vietnam, but he never tries to swoon the audience with epic, drawn out shots. He keeps it tight and simple and does it with the eye of a master. The acting is almost too good. Caine, who earned an Oscar nomination for his role, might seem a bit old for the part. Yet he still captures Fowler's entire personality as it is depicted in the book. And then there's Fraser, who I normally can't stand. It just makes his great performance here all the better. Probably the reason this movie has stuck with me so much is because of how quiet and reserved it is. It's not trying to be this major romantic war epic. It's goal is to capture the essence of what made Greene's novel work so well. The simplicity and the thoughtfulness and the craft. If there's a problem here it's the final shots telling us about the events that would follow. But that's just one misfire in an otherwise seamless and timeless film.

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