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Last Updated:  Monday, 11 November, 2002, 17:46 GMT
Quiet American offers timely lesson
By Tim Levell
BBC News Online

Sir Michael Caine
The Quiet American is based on a novel by Graham Greene
The Quiet American is not an easy film to watch in 2002.

Indeed, for its backers, Miramax, wondering if political sensitivities will allow it ever to get distributed in the US, it's not an easy film to release either.

Starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, it retells the Graham Greene story of an English journalist trying not to get involved in the brewing Vietnam conflict - and of an American CIA operative doing his best to stir it all up.

Director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games) believes that, perhaps more than any other movie, it explains how the Americans got involved in the most futile conflict in their history.


The Quiet American is also the most pointed commentary you'll see anywhere this year on America's possible invasion of Iraq.

As executive producer Sydney Pollack says: "It's about how we got drawn into an impossible political situation which we totally underestimated and in many ways misunderstood."
The Quiet American
Brendan Fraser plays the title character

His words refer to Vietnam - but could end up applying just as appropriately to Iraq.

The Quiet American is Alden Pyle, dashingly played by Fraser.

He arrives in Vietnam, fresh-faced and fresh out of college, with an idealist outlook to match.

Ostensibly a distributor of pharmaceuticals, it becomes clear he has a more sinister secret mission: to aid the creation of an indigenous force to overthrow both French colonialists and Communist forces.

He also comes into contact with gnarled Times correspondent Thomas Fowler (Caine), whose motto is "not to get involved".


He only breaks his doctrine to fall for a youthful and beautiful Vietnamese girl called Phuong (Do Hai Yen), who then becomes the target for Pyle's affections.

The love triangle which ensues is the weakest part of the movie.

Caine, 69, no longer looks like the kind of man to get a girl as exotic as Phuong.

And he is unconvincing as he veers from noncommital protectiveness to an intense desire for revenge.

But it is the political undercurrent which carries this film.
The Quiet American
The film was shot in Vietnam

Shot beautifully in Vietnam itself, it captures perfectly the humid late-colonial period.

Pyle's misadventures become ever more bizarre and outlandish, until, eventually, he cooperates in the bombing of a crowded marketplace.


Pyle claims he never meant it to be like that - that he never meant to kill civilians.

But, as Fowler painstakingly points out, it is impossible to do what Pyle is doing without mass bloodshed - and unintended consequences.

The marketplace bomb also gives rise to the most striking, if slightly predictable, shot in the movie.

As Pyle steps through the bloody mass of screaming Vietnamese, he notices to his irritation that a few specks of that blood have transferred to his pristine white trousers.

The Gulf War taught Americans that it's not impossible to right a wrong, and to do it clinically, without significant impact on themselves. But can it happen again in Iraq?



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