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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 US release of this movie was delayed for more than a year by the terrorist attacks on the USA of 11 September 2001. The producers were concerned that it would be seen as anti-American. 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. ...
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Flawed but fascinating and well made none the less
1952. Siagon. English journalist Thomas Fowler lives a quiet life with his young mistress, Phuong and no intention to return to London. When the Times request he return he starts looking for stories to ensure he can stay. At the same time an idealistic young American arrives as part of a medical aid programme in the middle of the war between the French and the Communist forces in the North fighting for independence. The American, Pyle falls for Phuong and the two men discuss what can be done. However in any conflict it is impossible to stay neutral for long.
As the film rather bluntly says, the plot here is the same story told twice. That of the Americans trying to protect a beautiful country/girl from an unpleasant future (unmarried or communism) even if it means taking her away from her older European master (France or Fowler). The two plots work well even if they have flaws. The tale of the two lovers is less well handed than the critical political stuff but is still good and slightly moving. The political comment is less sharp now than I imagine it was when Greene made it all those years ago, but it will still have impact as America's foreign policy prepares to take it into another conflict overseas in order to remove/keep out forces it feels are harmful to America.
I assume that this is what Noyce wanted and he does it well. The alignment with the central love is not that well done, and this is shown by the fact that Pyle is given those lines to speak so clearly in case anyone missed it. The love story didn't work as well as it should partly because I needed more information for example Phuong's motives were never fully clear and her character was weakly developed throughout. However it didn't take too much away from the film as a total and I still enjoyed it very much.
One of the main reasons was the direction. I have recently seen Noyce's Rabbit Proof Fence and he worked well there. Again here he directs well with the bigger landscape shots but also does well with more intimate or action shots. He also brings an excellent performance out of Caine. He should really get an Oscar for this but I suspect he won't as he got one a few years ago. Jaws The Revenge seems a very long time ago after seeing this film Caine is perfectly understated and you can see the emotion build rather than just appear. Fraser is also very good even if his character has to be damaged by having him explain things. Hai Yen is not as good. She is pretty and a nice gentle voice but I wanted her to have a better character with more she could have done more.
Overall this film may get bad reviews in the US due to it's clear criticism of past American policy but it doesn't deserve it. The love story element of it may have it's flaws but the film works pretty well overall and the political drama side is strong enough to hold it together. The main problem for me was actually believing that an American could ever exist that is as polite and well spoken as Fraser portrays Pyle to be!
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