The best way to capture a Graham Green novel on the silver screen is perhaps to remain true to the writer. Phillip Noyce does exactly that to produce this excellent political thriller that Hollywood has produced in last decade.
Michael Caine plays the British war correspondent Thomas Fowler placed in Saigon in French ruled Indo-china. The battle for independence against the French colonialism is tearing the nation apart while the colonialists and the Communist regime from the southern part of the country is battling it out in the hinterlands of the unfortunate country. Fowler, the reluctant observer and commentator, meets an idealist American health worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) who befriends him and seems to be holding the naive idea that instead of colonial power or communist regime Vietnam needs a third force to rule itself. While Fowler grows fond of Pyle, a rift appears in between their relation when Pyle falls for Fowler’s lover. Knowing that Fowler is married and his obstinate wife is not willing to grant a divorce, his lover realises that there’s no future with him and she leaves with Pyle. While this affects Fowler personally and professionally, he tries to cope by immersing himself into his work which leads him to see clearly through the murky water of politics, the bigger forces playing under the hood of small crooks and the true face of the familiar ones around him. The story is not only how the things are ugly and gruesome underneath, but also how the macabre world compels one to take side. The film perfectly depicts what Green novel intended: the end of nook for a dispassionate observer in the modern world where everyone must take a position.
Taking a note of the adaptation of the novel in silver screen in 1958 and in 2002, one can see the evolution of Hollywood. The first installment of 1958 was a thinning of political undertones of the novel, rendering it a rather trite patriotic war drama. On the contrary, Noyce’s adaptation was as sinister and as breathtaking as Green’s novel truly is.