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Mitt Romney: THE QUIET AMERICAN?


It’s always the quiet ones. That’s what they say about serial killers, but the same could hold true for foreign-policy hawks. Maybe Mitt Romney’s curiously muted performance in this year’s third and final presidential debate was inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s famous line, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” More likely, he was channeling the tragically clueless title character in THE QUIET AMERICAN (which airs Sunday at 8:15P on Sundance Channel) the deservedly Oscar-nominated 2002 adaptation of Graham Greene’s prescient anti-Vietnam War novel.

That would be Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), a deceptively wide-eyed Yank sent by the U.S. government on a murky “economic aid mission” to Vietnam in the mid-1950′s. Once there, he grows obsessed with the idea of saving the country from the Communists determined to overthrow their colonialist French overlords. His simplistic worldview is mirrored in Romney’s black-and-white outlook: As he declared on Monday night, with typically tortured syntax, “My strategy’s pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys.”

Pyle’s challenged by Thomas Fowler, a cynical British journalist (Michael Caine, never better), who points out that Western concepts of “liberty” may be foreign in Southeast Asia, and Americans should be careful what they wish for when attempting to build democratic nations abroad. That’s a lesson we’ve learned, once again, the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan; not only are the new regimes we’ve helped to install flawed, but we’ve sacrificed thousands of troops in operations launched by a Republican administration (opposed by Obama and backed by Romney) with no credible exit strategies. Yet this year’s GOP nominee continues to proclaim, with eerily quiet determination, “I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.”

THE QUIET AMERICAN masterfully uses an all-enveloping love triangle between Fowler, Pyle and a local taxi-hall dancer named Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) as a metaphor for the escalating Vietnamese conflict that the U.S. gets sucked into like a marsh of quicksand. Before he knows it, Pyle’s enmeshed in an untenable situation, propping up a murderous General—”in a war, you use the tools you’ve got, and right now, he’s the best one we have,” he rationalizes—and finding himself in the midst of a terrorist bombing. But the blood on Pyle’s white suit, and on America’s hands, can’t be wiped off so easily.

Upon leaving the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was President when Greene’s novel was written, wisely warned Americans, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” That danger is embodied by Pyle—as well as by Romney, who’s proposing a $2 trillion increase in unwanted defense spending. “We’ve got to have a stronger military,” the Republican insisted, without raising his voice so as not to scare off undecided moderates. “We have no idea what’s coming down the road.”

But we do know, or at least we should know, that becoming engulfed in a foreign intervention—whether in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or potentially Iran—can only lead to needless bloodshed. Pyle condescendingly tells Fowler, ”I don’t think you see the big picture,” but the real big picture here is THE QUIET AMERICAN. Tautly directed by Phillip Noyce (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER) and smartly adapted by a pair of prize-winning playwrights, Christopher Hampton (LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES) and Robert Schenkkan (THE KENTUCKY CYCLE), it’s a powerful cautionary tale told in an attention-grabbing whisper.

Photo credit: allmoviephoto.com

THE QUIET AMERICAN airs Sunday night at 8:15P on Sundance Channel.