Opens Fri Feb 14
Written in 1955, just one year after the French withdrew from what was then Indo-Chine, and as President Eisenhower was tentatively committing military advisors to South Vietnam, Graham Greene's novel, The Quiet American was prophetic. (The story is set in 1952.) It unfolds like a mystery, slowly and carefully: When we first meet the title character, played in the film version by the square-jawed Brendan Fraser, he is introduced as an economic aid worker. But it soon becomes apparent he is much more than the rosy-cheeked frat boy from Boston, as he wants us to believe. He is a CIA operative busy trying to cast the communists as evil-mongers. He goes as far as arranging for a car bomb to go off in downtown Saigon, framing the communists for the act. The sabotage is undertaken to convince Congress--at the time apathetic and/or uneducated about Vietnam--to commit more funds and troops.
When I first read Greene's book in 1995--the year that the U.S. State Department was "normalizing" diplomatic relationships with our former communist enemy--it read more like an intriguing, but very dated spy story. Were it not for the current war on terrorism, it's likely the film version of The Quiet American would have passed through cinemas as no more than a visually captivating and well acted film (Michael Caine plays to a tee the jaded and haggard British journalist who narrates the story).
But the timing of the movie means everything. Filming actually wrapped up in Vietnam just before 9/11. Miramax, however, refused to release the film last fall; only vigorous lobbying from Caine and a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival convinced them to reconsider.
It's easy to look head-on at the horrors and deception the U.S. government committed nearly fifty years ago. Hopefully, this well crafted and intriguing film will inspire questions about the current administration's all too similar imperialism.