He dissolves generic boundaries, splicing the elegant orchestration of the period...
Morag Reavley 2003-05-23
The Quiet American was very nearly hushed up altogether. Based on Graham Greene's novel set in 1950s Vietnam, the film portrays US complicity in terrorism to protect its own interests, a story with uncomfortable resonances for modern America. Its release was delayed by over a year following September 11, and then kept distinctly low-key. The soundtrack has also had a chequered life, issued half-heartedly four months behind the film.
Which is a pity, for this is imaginative work by the versatile Scot Craig Armstrong. A classical and pop composer collaborating with the likes of Madonna, Armstrong has scored some of the most musically interesting films of recent years. Credits include The Bone Collector, William Shakespeares Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Magdalene Sisters.
Armstrong's work with director Baz Luhrmann informs his score for The Quiet American. He dissolves generic boundaries, splicing the elegant orchestration of the period romance and the pace of the thriller with a dash of world-cinema ethnicity. Tinkling piano and strings are overlaid with vernacular vocals, ethnic drums and flutes with synthesizers.
These electronic rhythms are an important part of the films strategy of joining the dots between Vietnamese history and current Western foreign policy. Deployed at moments of conflict and climax - such as "The Ritual of Revenge" - they generate a musical illusion of contemporaneity.
Above this textured backdrop levitates the voice of Vietnamese-born Hong Nhung, part opera, part other-world, heard to spectacular effect in the feisty Saigon 1952. The soundtrack culminates with her modern rock vocal, "Nothing In This World", making the connection between French Vietnam and the present day complete.
Despite the relentlessly doomy plot, the score is mercifully varied. For the romantic strands, there are intimate piano whispers such as the eponymous "The Quiet American." In moments of crisis and conflict "Death in the Square", for one there is a headlong pile-up of native drums and ominous echoes.
This soundtrack is resourceful, driven and enjoyable to listen to. And there's no need to keep quiet about that.