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Film reviews

  • 08 July 2006

Screen Greene The Quiet American, dir. Phillip Noyce.

Now that it has secured release in the United States one can begin to think critically instead of politically about Phillip Noyce’s translation of Graham Greene’s famous 1955 novel. No more alternating anxiety and indignation that a fine film might sink because of distributors’ blue funk—or worse. Not that the politics will go away. Greene’s caustic account of love, treachery and high-intentioned CIA terrorism in mid-20th century Saigon was shocking when it was published, and it remains so. Little wonder that American audiences couldn’t stomach the film in its try-out screenings after September 11th.

At the heart of The Quiet American is a scene of sudden, ferocious carnage. Greene tells it in myopic detail. Noyce, wisely, does the same. The camera catches fragments, shards of the moment that lodge in memory, like shrapnel. And despite all that we know now about horror, what happens remains in some way unassimilable. That is Noyce’s extraordinary achievement. He doesn’t sate the imagination: he sharpens it. And we reel.

Noyce is a veteran director of action movies (Patriot Games, etc.) and knows every special-effects trick in the deck. But here he distils horror by showing it in slow passage through the ageing, reptilian contours of Michael Caine’s face. Caine (above, with Do Thi Hai Yen) plays Greene’s English journalist, Fowler—routinely sardonic, curious, but too long-standing an ex-pat to be ambitious, or even surprised. Then suddenly, the rind is peeled off the man’s face and mind.

Caine’s performance is subtly stellar, but not upstaging in a film full of angular and beguiling acting. Brendan Fraser, as the quiet Alden Pyle, is both bumble-footed and ominous—culpable innocence more frightening than anything Machiavelli could manage. Fowler and Pyle share a compromised passion for the beautiful Phuong, played with dignified allure and just enough fatalist pragmatism by Do Thi Hai Yen. Graham Greene would, I think, have owned them all. 

Morag Fraser

Frog principles Tadpole, dir. Gary Winick.

The eponymous Tadpole, otherwise known as Oscar Grubman (played by newcomer Aaron Sanford), is a precocious 15-year-old who lives on the Upper East Side, speaks French, quotes Voltaire and doesn’t like girls his own age. In short, he’s a bit of a pill—like a lot of teenagers.

He wouldn’t be very interesting at all except he harbours a grand passion: Tadpole is in love with his forty-year-old stepmother, Eve (Sigourney Weaver). On the night he decides to declare his heart,