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“The Quiet American”

“The Quiet American” reminds viewers that taking a human life is never as simple as black and white, good and evil. “The Quiet American” is exactly the kind of film that needs to be playing in multiplexes, and should be seen by many in these troubled times.

“The Quiet American” reminds viewers that taking a human life is never as simple as black and white, good and evil. “The Quiet American” is exactly the kind of film that needs to be playing in multiplexes, and should be seen by many in these troubled times. 
“The Quiet American” is based on a Graham Greene novel set in Vietnam during the early 1950s. The story takes place while the French are still trying to maintain control of their colony, and before the United States has become openly involved in Southeast Asia.   

The film opens with a body floating in the river. Immediately one hears the voice of Thomas Fowler. Michael Caine, who just picked up an Oscar nomination for his role in this film, plays Fowler, a British journalist who loves living in Saigon and covering the news there for his British paper.   

He loves Vietnam and more specifically, he loves his mistress, whom he could not take back home to England because his Catholic wife is waiting there. Fowler’s wife would never consider the idea of divorce, nor would she tolerate her husband’s mistress on British soil. So Fowler is content to remain where he is, and he works hard to keep the stories flowing to his editor. 

Into Fowler’s life walks the title character, “a quiet American” named Alden Pyle, played by Brendan Fraser. Fraser has spent much of his career starring in mindless fare like “Encino Man” and “George of the Jungle,” while also choosing roles in intelligent, thought-provoking films like “Gods and Monsters” and “The Quiet American.”  

He has never been better than he is in “American.” Alden Pyle complicates Fowler’s life because he falls in love with Fowler’s mistress. He offers her freedom from the chaos of her country because he can take her home to the United States. Pyle also complicates Fowler’s life because he is not what he appears to be.  

Much like the underrated “The End of the Affair” from 1999, which was also based on a Graham Greene novel, “Quiet American” is a romance story where true love is far from simple or easy. It is also a murder mystery. The identity of the body in the river is soon learned, but for most of the film the how and why of the body being there remains a compelling mystery.  

Finally, “Quiet American” is an intelligent political film. When Fowler and Pyle first meet, they begin to discuss the political structures of the world, and what should or should not happen to the Vietnamese people. Pyle has simple, ideal solutions; Fowler is the voice of reason, educating the younger man that no alternatives are perfect, that all come with a heavy price. Though this is a fictional story of Vietnam, there are many parallels to the realities that eventually came to the Vietnamese people. 

Though the Academy only singled out Caine’s performance for recognition, “The Quiet American” is a well-made and thought-provoking film for adults, and it deserves many more accolades. 

Miramax, the studio releasing “The Quiet American,” held the film for some time because the executives were worried that it may seem un-American in a post-9/11 world. On the contrary, the film inspires patriotism.  

It should remind all people that to be a truly loyal citizen, one must take nothing at face value. Things are seldom as simple as politicians would have us believe. 

Roger Thomas is pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

MPAA Rating: R for images of violence and some language

Director: Phillip Noyce

Writer: Christopher Hampton and Robert Shenkkan (based on Graham Greene’s novel)

Cast: Thomas Fowler: Michael Caine; Alden Pyle: Brendan Fraser; Phuong: Do Thi Hai Yen.