The Quiet American

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Philip Noyce
Running time: 101 minutes
Language: English
Now showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

When Graham Greene penned his novel "The Quiet American" in 1954, he was set on capturing a particular point in time in late, colonial era Indochina. These were the halcyon days, when white Westerners could come to the Orient to escape their pasts and reinvent themselves and land a beautiful bar girl half their age. Or the more ideologically inclined types could come with blueprints for keeping the region "free" and "democratic."

Greene would certainly smile if he could see how little has changed 50 years later. His depiction of Thomas Fowler the world-weary British correspondent who takes no sides in the Vietnamese rebellion against French rule, preferring instead his whiskey and women is what Donald Rumsfeld would decry as the malaise of "old Europe," decrepit and corrupt.

Then there's the younger American, Alder Pyle, Fowler's foil both romantically and existentially. Working for a suspiciously vague office of the U.S. government, Pyle literally brims with the conviction that American goodwill and common sense can sort out any political mess. This cocky confidence, untroubled by doubt, would not seem out of place in neoconservative circles today. (Especially the line where Pyle sneers that "The French aren't going to stop the communists. They haven't got the brains and they haven't got the guts.")