When I saw the movie title The Quiet American I thought maybe it was about me. I said to myself, Yeah, about fucking time. I mean, I have bursts of silence that can last for hours, where I hardly say anything to anybody. Mostly, when I am at the Tavern and I've maybe had what Mrs. Filthy calls "Too much to drink," I say something really stupid, like "Who wants a backrub?" right in front of the Harelip.
See, drinking usually gives me lucidity and allows me to finally articulate what bugs me about stuff. For example, it wasn't until late one Saturday night that I was able to make other people understand why I fear fire hydrants. Because they keep moving around, and they spy on us. See, now it probably sounds crazy, but that night I could explain my belief in ways that others understood. We went out as a group and just kicked the shit out of nearest one until our feet were bleeding.
After a few beers over the limit, I'm still mentally sharp. Maybe I am too sharp, because when I speak I use more farting noises, hand gestures, and even a little dancing, but nobody understands. While I'm still doing Nobel-caliber thinking, something gets lost in the translation and I end up talking over everyone's heads. They start to tease me about the time I pissed my pants because I couldn't find my zipper. It really isn't that funny once I explain that I couldn't find my zipper because I was wearing button-fly jeans, so no wonder I couldn't find the zipper. They should put a little warning on my pants.
Well, when the Harelip and Worm start making fun of me, I get real quiet. I sit with a cold beer, occasionally confirm how the fly of my jeans work and let the gears of my mind keep spinning at 100 miles per hour with all these incredible ideas. I keep them to myself, though. Why the fuck should I waste pearls on swines? They all think I'm pouting, but no, I'm just being thoughtful. I'm the Quiet American.
If a really great idea pops up, though, I do say it. Like how they
should make flypaper for trapping squirrels in the park. Believe
me, what the stuff they sell now is not nearly adequate.
Of course, The Quiet American is not about me. Neither is
it about American tourists overseas, although I imagine that's what
other countries think of us. They say, "Gosh, those Americans were
so skinny, polite, accommodating, friendly, and, well, quiet. They
even left a chain of McDonald's when they left. I wish more Americans
would come here." No, the movie is about Brendan Fraser as the title
character in an adaptation of one of Graham Greene's best novels
(there's a shitload of great ones).
Fraser, serving as an envoy of American Medical Aid, arrives in war-torn Vietnam during the1950s. He is a gentleman on the surface, na‘ve and seeking to do the respectable thing. Michael Caine is a British journalist who is already there, reporting on the civil war. He has a beautiful Vietnamese mistress (Do Thi Hai Yen) that Fraser immediately falls in love with.
Caine has been in Vietnam long enough that he is desensitized to
the war. He spends his days in leisure pursuit and screwing Hai
Yen. At the same time he receives a message from home that they
are closing the Vietnam office and he will be brought home; he'll
be sent back to the wife he doesn't love and who won't grant him
In order to stall his return home, Caine seeks to find a major story and finds it in a third fighting faction that is funded by neither the Communists nor the French. This new army has massacred the people of a northern village and framed the Commies and French. As Caine digs into the story, he learns that for all Fraser's outward appearance of good intentions and innocence, he's a terrible person. Meanwhile, Hai Yen is forced to choose Fraser because Caine will never be free to marry her.
Caine's only option is to return to England alone or to remove Fraser, even
though that means he will no longer be able to remain detached from
the war and its atrocities.
The Quiet American is a pretty good fucking film, primarily
because of its ability to shade its characters in the gray section
between good and evil. Hollywood creates villains that sit around
all day thinking about how great it is to be evil. In reality, very
few of us (with the notable exception of my former boss Dipshit
Suzanne) are pleased at our evilness. Evil actions are the result
of selfishness, jealousy, home-schooling or some other skewed perception,
not a desire to be evil. No matter how shitty someone's actions,
he always thinks he's justified when doing them. Just like Orson
Welle's Harry Lime in The Third Man who sold diluted penicillin
to orphanages, Fraser's Alden Pyle is so fucking creepy and evil
because he doesn't even know the damage he's doing. He has social
skills, he's not walking around with devil horns and a tail, but
his skewed reality makes him capable of incredible brutality. I
guess he represents the American sense of invincibility: that we
are always right and whenever we enter a war, we are automatically
the moral authority. Graham Greene hated us for that, and whether
or not you agree with him, he makes a pretty fucking compelling
argument that we can do more harm than good with our international
On the other hand, Caine's limey character is no saint. He cheats
on his wife, misleading a young woman, and doing a shitty job of
reporting. Still, he's worth caring about because he knows the difference
between right and wrong, measures his decisions based on that, and
feels shitty when he lands on the wrong side of the line. He's immature
and jealous, and they lead him to make decisions nobody can decide
the correctness of.
Anyway, it always makes me feel more respected when the movie actually
lets us decide who the good and bad guys are, or whether there are
any, rather than putting them in black and white hats and giving
the hero the better catch phrase.
Vietnam looks spectacular in this movie. The air and atmosphere
hangs heavy with the jungle humidity, the forests are lush and Saigon
is beautiful in a crumbling-empire way. Sadness creeps into every
scene. It's the sadness of death, loss and a country being torn
apart. The movie does an incredibly subtle job of showing a people
who are numb from having lost their parents and living in a country
that isn't theirs anymore.
Caine is fucking fantastic. He just slumps his shoulders and settles into his journalist. In every scene, his focus is on both the moral path and what best suits him. It's exactly the way I want to look when I am an immature man in my 60s. I want to look worldly on the surface, but behind the eyes I want to be consumed by jealousy and self-interest. I just have to work on the worldly part.
And the movie's pretty short, too. It's under two hours and paced
well. Director Philip Noyce does a brilliant job letting his settings
tell the backstory. The only thing that bothered me about the movie
was that two-thirds in, for about a minute, it thought maybe the
audience wasn't as smart as it hoped. It relied on voice-over flashbacks
while Caine says out loud what he has learned. It wasn't necessary
It's the best fucking movie I've seen in a while, and I'm not saying
that because I love Graham Greene. I'm saying that because it made
me feel smart, enlightened and entertained. I didn't feel talked
down and to and fucking oppressed in the name of poignant sadness,
like I did with The Hours. Hell, the last time I got this
much education and entertainment in one package was Candy Bottoms's
New Year's Barnyard Gang Bang. Four Fingers for The