The Quiet American

The Quiet American seems to have gone through something of a long gestation between being made and arriving on our screens. According to this article from the Washington Post, the film has been ready to screen for over a year, having previewed on Sept 10 2001. But things are not that easy for a film which has some anti-American sentiment. It’s not hard to see why, but the fact that it has been censured for all this time, goes a long way in explaining what’s missing from the American psyche. Finally it has had a limited release in the States, and gets a proper one after Christmas.
Michael Caine plays Fowler a British journalist in Saigon in early fifties, and Brendan Fraser plays Pyle, an American medical aide. The film’s based on the novel by Graham Greene, and here I must confess that at time of writing I’d only read about half the novel. This novel has been filmed before, but it’s some years since I saw it on TV, and I can really remember very little of it.
The French are in trouble, and there is talk in the American camp of a Third Force to seek a middleway between the French and the Communists. Into this political turmoil, we have Fowler and Pyle, and between them Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) who they both love. The film is skillfully constructed and looks wonderful thanks to Christopher Doyle’s cinematography, not pandering to the simplicities on many recent political thrillers. That would always be the wrong way to adapt a Greene novel in any case.
Nothing is as simple as it seems, and no-one can be totally divorced from what takes place around them. From what I’ve read, a lot of the conversations and first person thoughts in the book have had to be jettisoned, but it’s very good for all that.
Does Caine deserve an Oscar? Who knows. I don’t believe that I’ve seen any other films said to be in the running, but his performance is very strong. The age difference between Fowler and Phoung is probably too great to be glossed over, but that’s a trivial matter besides a thoroughly enjoyable film.