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The Quiet American

In war, the most popular weapon is seduction. 

Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

The Quiet American is set before the days when the U.S. was officially involved in Vietnam. The French were still entrenched in a war against the communists, not to mention having to deal with other factions from both the South and the North, and Saigon was just beginning to become a melting pot of conflicting interests from throughout the globe. In the middle of this confusion is Thomas Fowler (Caine), a reporter for The Times who has already been living there for over two years. Despite being married, he has a Vietnamese girlfriend young enough to be his daughter, and this relationship is threatened when a young, quiet American, Adam Pyle (Fraser), arrives in Saigon. Of course, there’s much more at stake than love, as more and more Americans begin to show up over the course of time, bringing a wide range of intentions with them.

Excellent performances are turned in by Caine (enjoying something of a late revival in his career) and Fraser, making every minute worthwhile. Caine excels as the old-timer who is aware that he doesn’t deserve the love of a young woman but is still not ready to let the next generation take over (in more ways than one). Fraser, on the other hand, portrays his character in a way that you feel for him no matter what he does. He isn’t rude or insulting or out to prove himself, he’s actually quite polite and always means well, even in the heat of an argument. This makes the ending even more jarring and complex when it finally arrives, leaving us to wonder where the line between politics and personal relationships belongs. Is Caine’s character breaking his once declared standpoint that he “doesn’t choose sides” or his he merely being selfish?

The story’s questions are never answered with any certainty, which is what makes it a powerfully subtle film. As for the United States’ early involvement in Vietnam, these are well-documented facts that have been known for a long time, and they are depicted with immense restraint. What matters, however, is how Fowler reacts to the events and how his own actions relate.

The Quiet American may be set on the outskirts of war and at times right in the middle of it, but it is by no means a war movie. Not only does it provide a beautiful and convincing portrait of Vietnam in the 1950s, it reveals how difficult it can be to differentiate between what is right and wrong because they are often very much alike. If only more films were as challenging and genuine as this one.

Adrian Cronauer

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Screenings of this film:

2002/2003 Summer Term (35mm)