Spy 100, #32: The Quiet American

A carefully constructed and beautifully shot adaptation of the classic Graham Greene novel, The Quiet American (2002) sets a dark, compelling love triangle against the backdrop of war-torn Viet Nam in the early 1950s. Michael Caine shines as detached British reporter Thomas Fowler, a cynic more interested in smoking opium and spending time with his mistress Phuong (Do Thi Ha Yen) than covering the war between French colonial forces and communist insurgents. Until, that is, circumstances conspire to threaten his lackadaisical lifestyle: a missive from his London paper recalls him home, and then his relationship is challenged by well mannered American Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser). A newcomer to Saigon, Pyle is in the country to work with a relief group helping aid those with degenerative eye disease. The initially friendly relationship between Fowler and Pyle goes sour once Phuong comes between them…and even more when it becomes clear that there’s more than simple romantic rivalry bubbling beneath the surface of their friendship.

Anchored by Caine’s excellent performance, The Quiet American is an engrossing period drama, bringing vividly to life Greene’s famously symbolic, dark romance. Fowler embodies aging European colonialism; Pyle, American ideological imperialism; and Phuong, the innocent Third World nation caught between competing meddlers. Even without the political subtext, what remains makes for great surface story, with complex romance and tested friendship, political conflict and sinister machinations in wars both hot and cold. Excellent stuff.

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