FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Review of The Quiet American

by DOUGLAS VALENTINE

The movie, the Quiet American, is fast, tight and to the point: the point being that the CIA is a terrorist organization capable of car-bombing a square in Saigon and blaming it on the Communists, or watching with apparent knowing glee as two planes plowed into the Twin Towers in New York City. In either case the atrocity is deniable, never investigated, and intended to start a war that will enrich the elite, while destroying the lives of millions of innocent people in the process. And that’s why the movie’s distributors waited a year to release this great good film.

Michael Caine is perfect as Thomas Fowler, the dissolute Brit, a knight in tarnished armor, and self-imposed exile, squandering his life and his lover’s. Brendan Fraser slips naturally into the skin of Alden Pyle, the archetypal CIA snake oil salesman: charming and bright, an unfathomable complex of fake identities wrapped around evil intentions. And Do Thi Hai Yen is vibrant as Phuong, the essence of the feminine principle, as powerless in the face of oppression as Palestine. Her name in Vietnamese means Phoenix, a symbol of peace and harmony, and she is caught between Fowler and Pyle in the same way animistic Vietnam was exploited and torn apart for decades by competing, self-serving Imperial powers.

There are many powerful symbols in this film allegory, and for that reason one should not confuse it with Graham Greene’s novel. The book is more intensely personal: Fowler is fouler in his vain, self-contempt; Pyle (the hemorrhoid) is more the otherly abstraction; and Phuong is far more erotic and fragile. But this is not a criticism. The movie is elegant, relevant and hopeful. The book is a flat cynical statement of human beings whose actions are made comprehensible only in the lucid light of an opium high.

The story itself is simple. Fowler is a lecherous old adulterer (who writes well), and his Faustian pact is interrupted by the devil in the guise of virile, youthful Alden Pyle. The outcome of their rivalry, in the short-term, is a foregone conclusion. But as Pyle’s personas peel away, Fowler is presented with a morally ambiguous opportunity for redemption. In the movie it is presented as poetic justice; after a half-hearted attempt to have it both ways, Fowler makes the dirty decision, then stradles the great white steed of idealism, and charges off in search of the Holy Grail. In the book it is pure hypocrisy; a twisted chance to win the Great Game, escape justice, and go home.

Both the movie and the book are fabulous in their way, and both prophesize the overarching choice each American citizen must make as our quiet vanguard, the CIA, cuts a swath of righteous savagery through the world. Both tell us that in the end it doesn’t matter why you do the right thing, just as long as you do it.

This is a terrific movie. Don’t miss it.

DOUGLAS VALENTINE is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His new book The Strength of the Wolf: the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968 will be published by Verso. Valentine was an investigator for Pepper on the King case in 1998-1999. For information about Valentine and his books and articles, please visit his website at www.douglasvalentine.com.

He can be reached at: redspruce@attbi.com

Valentine’s last article for CounterPunch was: An Act of State: the Assassination of Martin Luther King

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump. It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail