By Sherrie Li
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Shot in Saigon by Hong Kong-based Australian cinematographer Chris Doyle, Noyce's remake certainly looks beautiful, although Mankiewicz had the undoubted advantage of filming there before the Vietnamese phoenix ("phuong") had fallen into the furnace, or risen from the rubble. Any Australian of Noyce's age has friends who died in Vietnam (because, unlike Britain, Australia allowed itself to be browbeaten by LBJ into sending troops), so there is no doubting his commitment to the material, and to preserving Greene's baleful vision. He has made a good-looking, intelligent stab at the novel, mildly undermined by a tendency to seek contemporary relevance, including a redundant montage of Fowler's supposed dispatches between 1952, when the novel ends, and 1965, when the U.S. Marines arrived. No doubt the American right will have a field day disinterring then re-burying Greene and his powerful demolition of American adventurism, but if The Quiet American stirs fresh debate about the unintended consequences of intervention abroad, it will have served its purpose admirably. Pierce Brosnan as James Bond
IF WE DEMANDED FROM FILMMAKERS THE SAME fidelity to Ian Fleming's novels that we ask of those tackling Greene's, the results might really depress us. First up: the booze. Just count the snifters James Bond chugs in chapter one of Goldfinger: four double bourbons, two double martinis and a foaming pint of pink champagne. License To Kill? They wouldn't give this guy a License To Piss Unassisted. As for knocking combat boots with mocha-licious Halle Berry in the new Bond, a.k.a. Die Another Day, well, try this from Live and Let Die: "The Chigroes have all the venality of the Chinaman and all the brutishness of the Negro." Guess that puts paid to Michelle Yeoh as well.
A revisionist Bond movie, then, might imagine him at age 55, in about 1975, empurpled by strong drink, given to frequent and splenetic fulminations against the unions, the Labour Party, the Jews and the wogs, and involved in one of those semi-clandestine and wholly ridiculous private armies of ex-spies and SAS officers that briefly flourished in paranoid mid-'70s England. Director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Along Came a Spider) hasn't gone that far (or that crazy), though in Die Another Day he does fill the screen with witty nods to 40 years of Bond movies: Berry's Jinx emerges from the Cuban surf in an orange version of Ursula Andress' famous bikini-and-fish-knife combo in Dr. No, and later undergoes a little old-school (well, Gold-school) laser surgery. The Aston Martin is back (that Beamer was a sacrilege), and it's invisible, which is pretty neat. Et cetera. All that's missing are a piranha pool, and blokes with lethal hats and golden guns.
The result is the niftiest Bond movie in years — fresh, funny, and jammed to the rafters with demented stunts, Boys'-Own gadgetry and brazen promiscuity. Tamahori shoots and cuts action like a pro, but he also has a surprisingly lyrical eye, and sees to it that his actors are fully developed characters, not just insertable-subtractible ciphers to fill villain- and babe-shaped holes on the screen. Purists and Bond-bores may bemoan the occasional computer-generated effects, but the rest of us will be glad to see the Bond-wagon trouncing its many action-movie imitators for the first time in years.
THE QUIET AMERICAN | Directed by PHILLIP NOYCE | Written by CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON and ROBERT SCHENKKAN, based on the novel by Graham Greene | Produced by STAFFAN AHRENBERG, WILLIAM HORBERG, ANTHONY MINGHELLA and SYDNEY POLLACK | Released by Miramax | At Laemmle's Sunset 5 and Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex
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