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PART 2: The Quiet American - film

The Quiet American is a beautiful film. It is predominantly in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) which I visited last year: a wonderful city, but somewhat out of touch with its mighty cultural past - instead now filled with party hostels and Burger Kings. In order words, it has fallen prey to the vast tsunami of globalisation sweeping the world. The film is so beautiful: with the bright colours, exotic lights and vivid mystery that one imagines of the old days in the East.


This is all on the surface however. At the heart of it: a deep love triangle, the desire for power, war, murder... There is indeed a lot going on.

If anything's going to draw you into this film, it's Michael Caine who still - at a remarkably old age - is the epitome of 'cool.' Caine was nearing 70 when he played the middle aged journalist Thomas Fowler, a journalist in Vietnam, covering the rapidly unfolding events that would lead to American involvement. Caine's performance is without a doubt the highlight of the film


His character, Fowler, is cynical, in love and as he says is 'Just a reporter. I offer no point of view, I take no action. I don't get involved.' In the film - unlike the novel - it seems Fowler quite literally does 'take no action,' instead preferring to spend time with Phuong and smoke opium.


And inside the ocean of calmness Fowler is living in, comes Alden Pyle played by Brendan Fraser: an inexperienced CIA agent, bent on using his power in Vietnam to serve American interests, despite his flaws. Pyle is obsessed with the works of York Harding, who advocates a 'third way' between French colonialism and Vietnamese home rule. For some reason Pyle seems to think American intervention is the correct path for Vietnam... Also the film shows that Pyle can speak Vietnamese with a rather good touch in my opinion that the novel misses out on.


The ambiguities surrounding Pyle's fate are just as emphasised in the film as in the novel, which is where the drive of the plot lies. There are two questions: Did Fowler want Pyle dead? And did he want him dead to get Phuong back or to take action against what he considered wrong? The film does a remarkable job in capturing these effectively, although at only 101 minutes, one feels that the film adaptation of such a classic, much-read novel could have been longer in order to explore further the motives of Fowler.


One disappointment for me was the scene between Fowler and Pyle up a tower, being guarded by two Vietnamese men, under heavy attack. In the novel, the conversation is long and profound: revealing a hell of a lot about these two rather guarded characters. The film version is short, and the dialogue - whilst charming - is not even half as insightful as the novel, and if I'm being honest, I was very much looking forward to Michael Caine reading out some of the calmly intense philosophy that underpins that dialogue.


Overall definitely a film worth watching - especially in an age where film adaptations are more effective in getting out an author's message than the book itself!

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