British Thomas Fowler enjoys his life in Saigon working as a reporter for the London Times, covering the conflict in Vietnam between the colonial French powers and the communists, who seem to be winning the war. In the later stages of his career, he takes his job lightly now, filing stories only on occasion, and no longer doing field work. But most important, this posting allows him to escape from what he considers a dreary life in London--including an unsatisfying marriage to a Catholic woman, who will never grant him a divorce--which in turn allows him to have an affair with a young Vietnamese ex-taxi dancer named Phuong, whom he loves and would marry if he were able. Phuong's sister doesn't much like Fowler if only because Fowler cannot provide a stable future for her. His idyllic life is threatened when head office suggests he go back to London. In this way, he decides to write a major story to prove to his superiors that he should stay in Saigon. In 1952, Fowler is called into ... Written by
The obscure poem quoted by Fowler and Pyle is 'Dipsychus" by Arthur Hugh Clough. See more »
Before the end titles, we are treated to headlines in The Times from the 1950s, over Fowler's byline. The variant "advisor" is seen instead of the more traditional "adviser", which was (and still is) prescribed by The Times' style guide - although "advisor" had occasionally appeared since at least 1833. See more »
I can't say what made me fall in love with Vietnam.That a woman's voice can drug you? That everything is so intense? The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London.
They say whatever you're looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that's the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your ...
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Michael Caine - Intense, Brooding, Sympathetic, Questioning
I don't understand why the studio satraps thought it necessary to embargo this film after 9/11, requiring persuasion on Michael Caine's part to get it to limited release now so as to qualify for Oscar nominations. The American role in Viet Nam is the subject of hundreds of books and countless articles - and not a few films. There is nothing unhealthy about the continuing debate and contrary to what some opine, I doubt American policy vis-a-vis Iraq has much lineal connection to the troubled saga of U.S. involvement in Indo-China, or its partial successor in hapless interest, the Republic of Viet Nam.
The Graham Green story has been filmed before (1958) but this is a pungent, attention-grabbing version, filmed in various parts of Viet Nam. The sultry and grasping humidity of the land almost comes off the screen. The story takes place in 1952 as the inept and poorly led French stumble towards their ultimate debacle at Dien Bien Phu (anyone interested in this story should start and finish with Bernard Fall's remarkable account of the French Army's Super-Alamo).
Caine, a Brit named Fowler, assures Brendan Fraser, a putative U.S. humanitarian officer named Pyle, that he is a "reporter," not a "correspondent." The difference to the easy-living Fowler is that the latter has a viewpoint, perhaps even a cause, while the former, as Sergeant Friday would say, only wants the facts.
This film really belongs to Caine and Fraser but one other character, the stunning Do Thi Hai Yep, Fowler's live-in girlfriend, deserves mention. She lights up the screen with both her calculating passion for, first, Fowler and then Pyle. Her character is realistically complex: I knew a number of such women when I was an Army officer and although the phrase isn't used here, she's a perfect example of the desperately ambitious, beautiful mistress whose only long-term goal is to be taken to "The Land of the Big P.X."
A series of experiences transform both Fowler and Pyle. Several of the scenes of violence are real enough but the music is intrusive. You don't hear music when people are dying around you. At least not performed by an orchestra.
This is the third recent film in which Michael Caine distinguishes himself by the depth of his acting (the others being "The Cider House Rules" and "Last Orders"). Caine's Fowler leaves us wondering as to what his motives are as he slowly changes before us. There's no clear answer and room for argument. His Fowler is both disturbing and ingratiating.
The audience in the East Village theater where I saw "The Quiet American" today clearly was made up of folks whose minds were settled as to U.S. involvement in Indo-China, never mind the later escalation in Viet Nam. Their grunts and laughs at certain points reflected their views. But the story told here is a faithful mirror of what in 1952 were complex questions in a scary world made scary by communism, not the liberal democracies. That mistakes of a grievous nature were made may be clear today but the road was ill-illuminated then. This film, and Caine's portrayal in particular, reflects the contemporary confusion and the unravelling of any hopes for a peaceful reunification of the two Viet Nams after the French defeat.
I hope this film gets a very wide distribution after it finishes its two-week Oscar-qualifying run.
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