REVIEW BY ALEX SALMON
The Quiet American
Based on the book by Graham Greene
Directed by Philip Noyce
Starring Michael Caine,
Brendan Fraser and Do Thi Hai Yen
Showing at major cinemas
The Quiet American is a dramatised account of the CIA's role in manipulating the political landscape in Vietnam during the early 1950s. Based on Graham Greene's 1955 novel of the same name, the film is set in 1952 Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) at the height of the struggle of the Vietnamese people against the French colonial occupation.
Directed by Philip Noyce, whose films include the acclaimed Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American was to be screen-tested on September 12, 2001. Its US production house Miramax however delayed its release for more than a year in the aftermath of the events of 9/11, deeming it to be a politically inappropriate time for the US public to be confronted with the realities of CIA-orchestrated terrorist bombings and US political interference in Vietnam that led to the Vietnam War.
London Times correspondent Terry Fowler (played by Michael Caine) befriends a US CIA agent Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), who is posing as an aid worker for a organisation called the American Economic Program. Pyle falls in love with Fowler's Vietnamese companion Phoung (Thi Hai Yen). It soon becomes apparent to Fowler that Pyle is not who he claims to be. Pyle discusses a plan to build a political "third force" as an alternative to the liberation movement and France's Vietnamese collaborators.
This relates to Washington's assessment in 1952 that the French were probably going to be defeated by the liberation movement, which was headed by the Viet Minh. It was at this time that the CIA began to look to forces supportive of US economic and political interests in a post-French Vietnam. In reality, this "third force" was a grouping of viciously anti-communist generals and landlords, led by general The.
Fowler's relationship with Pyle becomes strained not only due to Pyle's pursuit of Phoung but also after he learns of Pyle's involvement in a terrorist bombing designed to discredit the Viet Minh. Pyle attempts to suppress evidence of his involvement. The film accurately portrays the role played by the US in nurturing and supporting what was to later become the dictatorship of General Diem in South Vietnam.
Unlike the original 1957 version of the film produced by Joseph Mankiewicz, Noyce's production is not compromised by the Cold War atmosphere. A montage of newspaper headlines at the end of the film, a hindsight not available to the 1957 version, provides the audience with compelling evidence of the direct link between US interference and the bloody Vietnam War in the aftermath of the defeat of the French at the decisive battle of Diem Bien Phu in 1954.
This film is an important artistic contribution to exposing the brutal reality of US foreign policy in the Third World. No audience member will fail to recognise its message, especially in the current climate of increasing US aggression.
From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.
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