Saigon 1952 – Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is the Times foreign reporter covering French attempts to stem the rising tide of Communism in Northern Vietnam.

Fowler has his life nicely placed. He sends an occasional report on battles he witnesses from the comfort and safety of his desk, enjoys the considerable comforts of Pharoung his Vietnamese mistress, whilst avoiding commitment due to his god fearing Catholic wife back in England.

Caine portrays the character as someone who has long ago decided that choosing sides is for young fools. He reports “facts” and gives no opinion on their voracity or otherwise.

Beautifully shot mainly on location, with most supporting characters played by local acting talent. You can almost feel the vibrancy, heat, sweat & moral corruption pervading every scene of this classic Graham Greene novel.

Into this heady mix arrives Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) an American innocent abroad in every sense, arriving in Saigon to oversee a medical program on Glaucoma prevention. Fowler intrigued to find a real friend, introduces Pyle into the local scene thereby allowing him an opportunity to dance with Phuong (Do Hai Yen). Pyle is instantly smitten but one feels that Phuong is actually in love with Fowler and will not run from him willingly.

As all employers do, “The Times” senses laziness and Fowler must produce some interesting copy or return home, not a prospect Fowler entertains for a moment. This spurs him into action joining the French on a reconnaissance mission which uncovers a village massacred by “unknown” forces. Pyle again turns up and Fowler begins to wonder just how many Glaucoma operations one might perform in the burnt out ruins of a Vietnamese village.

Director Noyce, removes all element of surprise at the eventual outcome of the film within the first few scenes. This leaves not so much how, but by who and more importantly, why?

Fraser is here a long way from “George of the Jungle”, playing a complex role that requires almost child like wonder and innocence in opening scenes. Later in a pivotal and very well staged scene, he casually removes blood from his shoe, an action that his original character would never contemplate. Perhaps as Fowler suggests he never was who he pretended to be.

Caine continues to mature into better roles, here playing the character perfectly.
Eventually he will be faced with a decision which becomes easier due to the double edged benefits the choice offers. Whilst he may delude himself into making decisions on right & wrong, ultimately does self preservation determine the fate of those around him?

Any film dealing in American involvement in far off conflicts will strike a certain resonance in today’s post Iraq war time. The all pervading feeling is that the whole situation is a disaster waiting to happen. A mess already perhaps, but with the wrong kind off “help”, hell on earth is just a few “advisers” away. You almost want to reach out to the characters and say “If you think it’s bad now, just wait”.


A well crafted, thoughtful film that offers audiences glimpses of a time & place that they will not have seen before. Firmly fixed in the period it is set, the characters actions are believable and their actions understandable for all the wrong reasons. Well acted throughout with Caine in particular inhabiting his role. How relevant such a film is, in the current climate, may depend on your own political bias.