The Quiet American – Day Twenty Eight – #40movies40days
The Quiet American is a wonderful 2002 film directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Michael Caine (Power of Idealism) as a jaded newspaper reporter who moves from being an observer, passionately in love with a young Vietnamese girl, to a direct participant in the tangled politics of her country.
“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam – that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there’s a breeze. The river is beautiful. You could be forgiven for thinking there was no war; that the gunshots were fireworks; that only pleasure matters. A pipe of opium, or the touch of a girl who might tell you she loves you. And then, something happens, as you knew it would. And nothing can ever be the same again.”
On one level The Quiet American is a love story about two men in love with the same woman, both of whom believe have her best interests at heart. On a deeper level it is about the duplicity surrounding America’s growing involvement in Viet Nam.
The film, and the novel it is adapted from, are set during the early 1950’s. French forces are busy fighting the communists. Brendan Fraiser (Power of Conscience), a young aide worker believes the way to save Viet Nam is to introduce a third force to take the place of both the French colonialists and the communist rebels and thereby restore order.
If innocent civilians must be killed to protect other innocent civilians– so be it. (How much evil are you willing to do in pursue of what you see as the greater good?) It turns out he is an American CIA operative able to put his ideas into action. Along the way he falls in love with Caine’s mistress. Caine muses that it is a small leap from wanting to save her country to wanting to save her.
Stephanie Zacharek, writing in Salon.com, calls The Quiet American “the smudged line that often separates loyalty and rivalry in friendships, the bewildering complexity of romantic love, the insecurities wrought by encroaching old age and both the value and the blind treachery of political idealism.”
The film is a wonderful meditation on how politics get all mixed up and tangled into what and who you love. It is a literate and achingly tender portrayal of a disaster waiting to happen.