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The Quiet American
2002 - R - 118 Mins.
Director: Philip Noyce
Producer: Miramax Films/Intermedia Films
Written By: Graham Greene
Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija
Review by: David Trier
The Quiet American

In the time of the “loud” American, few historical films are more relevant than one that openly portrays the hypocrisy flaunted in the Vietnam War.

In 1952, cynical London Times correspondent Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) has been enjoying his time in Vietnam writing insignificant articles and enjoying the pleasures of his young Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). But when a young and handsome do-gooder named Pyle (Brendan Fraser) arrives, competition over who would be better to take care of Phuong causes intense conflict. Meanwhile, Fowler’s investigation into the violent acts of a Vietnamese third political party keeps bringing him in contact with the elusive American. Might this seemingly well-intended Yankee be part of a terrifying historical truism in the breeding ground of what was later to become the Vietnam War?

More stunning than director Phillip Noyce’s admirable Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American is able to exist as both an emotionally conflicting love story and a painful and often forgotten study of America’s involvement as catalyst to one of the world’s most violent and embarrassing conflicts. The common interpretation of the Vietnam War (from an American standpoint) is that the communist north spontaneously invaded it’s own south, sparking our instinctually need to protect the innocent by slaughtering the aggressors. Of course, little of this makes any sense when one learns of the likelihood that communism was bound to be democratically chosen over the sloppy system established by the exiting French. So it’s this backdrop of 1950’s Vietnam that allows acclaimed author Graham Greene to raise questions about the war that was later to claim so many lives.

At the forefront of this historical drama, is a love story that’s so bizarre, it can only be appreciated with the help of seriously strong acting. Michael Caine is very likely to receive an Oscar for his role, being able to portray both a man of age-induced indifference and a closet youthful romantic. Hai Yen adds to this by having a screen presence that makes anyone with functioning loins and a heart want to take care of Phuong. Fraser steps out of his usual role, the fumbling moron (George of the Jungle, Encino Man, Bedazzled, Blast from the Past, Dudley Do-Right, Airheads…), and offers for once a three-dimensional and believable character we never completely dismiss or trust. The film’s weakest element however, is the inexplicable love Phuong immediately feels for Pyle. The triangle is set up very quickly and a little conveniently. But the brilliant writing in general makes it clear that Phuong herself is Vietnam. She’s the concubine of a European as well as the prize of an American and certainly has very little to say or do that might dictate her own future.

Although the film starts out a little slow, Noyce gives plenty of evenly paced drama and exciting graphic action. It’s a good movie anyway you look at it. Also worth noting, had it not been for the efforts of actor Michael Caine, the American studio system might still not have released it, choosing to shelve it due to its proximity to 9/11. Apparently, the issue might have interfered with the studio system’s bombing of Afghanistan and its imminent invasion of Iraq.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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