Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"The Quiet American" (2002) - Movie Review

Phillip Noyce likes to take the backdrop of a political scenario and pull in the people who appear to be small in that backdrop. There is in the eye of the day to day regular human in a community either its a city or a country does not necessarily contribute to or for the huge enormous momentum in their clan. Noyce takes the lives of few people and the bigger than life movement causing them to act and affecting the regularity of the complications in love, struggle and idealism. Such was the story set in Australia of the aboriginal girls in the “Rabbit-Proof Fence”, then a simple family man turning into a force of violence in the film “Catch a Fire” set in the apartheid-era South Africa and here in “The Quiet American”, we see Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine), Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) and Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) in the 1952 Saigon, Vietnam in the midst of the fight between the French colonial powers and Vietnamese communists.

This film is the second adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel of the same name which was published in 1955. The 1958 version as the Wiki informs did not follow the novel faithfully while Noyce’s adaptation does. The nature of the controversy would only make me reveal the suspense which I will not go in detail. The film is about a British journalist Fowler and Quiet American Pyle fighting for the Vietnamese girl Phuong unlike the traditional love triangle. Pyle meets Fowler who is with Phuong. Phuong loves Fowler but the reality of the protection to live a secure life draws more to the old man. She has a sister (Pham Thi Mai Hoa) who is looking for a better alternative and Pyle is the man.

“The Quiet American” cannot be more comfortable with its manner in treating the political climate with its characters. Each time its people meet, there is an agenda for each of those. Fowler is asked by his magazine to return and he goes to north Vietnam for a story. Pyle meets Fowler when he tells why he is there. A scene where Pyle confides to Fowler of having fallen in love with Phuong. Fowler is not surprised and does not show any reaction. He knows he is old and not suitable, he know that Pyle is crossing the line but also knows that he is no one to judge as he is married a woman back in England who denies his divorce. He is conflicted inside but wants to be the mature wise old man out here.

Pyle is a man who is zealous of his philosophies. He comes as the aid worker. Bound by the gentleman he is, his approach towards this situation, however untraditional, awkward and out of line it is, makes it amicable and composed in his expression of his feelings. Both men does the crooked way to achieve the doll they play around in this Vietnamese girl. And behind their shadow happens the real story and when the outcome arrives, the dialogues spoken are reevaluated and gives out a meaning of hidden literary work.

Christopher Doyle as the cinematographer carries the whiff of the smell the character of Fowler talks about this country. As the dusk basks in the golden sun and the classy Europeans and Americans dine in the copacetic settings of the restaurant, there is a silence and suspense in the serenity of the picture collected by the cinematographer for this film. Doyle in his backdrop does stand out but not as a distraction.

The men in this story are firm believers of their own justice. Their conscience and their values are tested both for personal gains and political adherence. They like to be gentleman but they want more than being the nice men they are asked to be. Michael Caine as the balanced and mature man outbursts once to confront Fraser’s Pyle. He walks around with the cane wounded by the defeat he got to accept and cries behind the doors of rest room. At the same time he is fast in accepting those defeats but the concealed marginal machinations run all the time. While Caine does that, one would forget that Brendan Fraser creates a different version of the same traits in Pyle. Both are driven by this girl and their view points on what is happening in this country.

“The Quiet American” touches intensely on couple of occasions. A film which projects as a love triangle takes on more than that. Then it mingles the social concern and subjective actions to create a film containing images and conversations which is soothing and lacerating. The love for that woman by these men and their patient appreciation for that beauty brings smile and evokes a sense of brotherhood in this tabooed affection for the same girl. There is an unusual touching scene in the watch tower with Pyle expressing his love and how he wonders what she does right now to the man whom she is with now and Fowler describes her day. That is when an emotion rarely treated surfaces, respect. What each holds afterward in the film does not matter because in that instant they are connected by the respect and love they have for the same woman and more than that is their acknowledgement of the other’s feeling toward her.

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