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THE QUIET AMERICAN

Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen
Director: Phillip Noyce
Rated: M15+

AFTER his conversion to Catholicism, Graham Greene became intrigued by Padre Pio and went to his monastery in the south of Italy to meet him. Green lined up to have his confession heard by the stigmatic friar and the closer he got to the top of the line the more uncomfortable he became. He had been told that Padre Pio had the gift of knowledge and could read people’s thoughts. Admitting that there were just a few sins he wanted to keep to himself, Green fled the church just before it was his turn to enter the confessional.

Whatever of Padre Pio’s words of knowledge, Green was prophetic about US foreign policy in Vietnam.

Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is the lazy, opium-addicted correspondent for The Times of London in Vietnam. He lives with Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), whom he would like to marry except his Catholic wife in London will not give him a divorce.

In the early 1950s, at the height of the Vietnamese war against the French, Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) arrives to head up the American medical mission. He falls in love with Phuong and wants to make an honest woman of her. Fowler discovers, however, that honesty is not Pyle’s strong suit and sets out to find out who he is and what he’s doing in Vietnam.

This film is a remake of the 1958 classic from Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Michael Redgrave and Audie Murphy.

Phillip Noyce’s film is classy, assured, well acted and atmospheric. It uses terrific locations in Vietnam, has wonderful sets and costumes but it fails to win us over completely. It is a pleasant rather than arresting film.

The problem lies with Greene’s novel. What was shocking in 1956 is not now.

Rather cynically, but with good cause, we have come to expect that all governments will be up to ill deeds on foreign soil in the name of self-interest. What Noyce’s film consciously does is fill in my generation on the background to the Vietnam War of the early 1960s.

The Quiet American is like a prequel to Platoon.

Australian director Phillip Noyce had a big year last year with his award-winning Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American.

Curiously and unintentionally the subjects of these films are related. Both films observe foreigners telling locals how to live their lives.

The first film looks at the fallout, while this latter film looks at the build up. Either way the results were disastrous for everyone.

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