The Quiet American

"Very Good"

The Quiet American Review


Emotionally and politically complex beyond what most filmmakers would dare attempt -- and transporting in a way that vividly recreates the tastes, the smells, the very character of 1950s Vietnam -- "The Quiet American" is a pungent, powerful, psychologically spellbinding film about a aged British reporter caught up in a love triangle and in the multifaceted intrigue that led the country into two decades of war.

Michael Caine, in what is arguably the most potent, unforgettable and instinctive performance of his busy career, stars as Thomas Fowler, a disillusioned London Times reporter whose only remaining passions are his attachment to life in Vietnam and his love for his beautiful, fragile young mistress named Phuong (Hai Yen), a former taxi dancer at a Saigon nightclub.

After years of skating by on occasional submissions to his newspaper, Fowler is trying to avoid being recalled to England, by returning to the front lines of the communist uprising, when he meets Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), an idealistic aid worker fresh from America who befriends Fowler but falls in love with Phuong.

"I should have realized," Caine offers in his sparse, insightful, slightly melancholy voice-over, "that to someone like Pyle, saving a country and saving a woman would be the same thing."

But is there something more to this seemingly humble American? Fowler begins to wonder when piecing together details about the young man who carries a book called "Dangerous to Democracy" and argues that neither the colonial French nor the communists should rule the country.

When Fowler takes a trip into rebel territory for a confrontational interview with the breakaway leader of a volatile, brutal third faction, he finds Pyle, ostensibly working with the Red Cross. When Pyle asks for a ride back to Saigon, he saves Fowler's life, springing into curiously stealthy and strategically adept action as they come under attack on the road at night.

Taking place in a dangerous civil climate where the sound of a grenade going off a few blocks away is nothing more than a hiccup in conversation, "The Quiet American" soon finds terrorism, espionage, moral ambiguity and other precursors of the future U.S.-led war enveloping Fowler, who "had hidden so long behind a typewriter."

Directed by Philip Noyce (who struck gold twice this year, also helming "Rabbit-Proof Fence") and adapted from Graham Green's acclaimed novel (which was eerily precognative of the Vietnam War) by Christopher Hampton ("Dangerous Liaisons") and Robert Schenkkan, the film opens with two cinematic errors in judgment: 1) A beautiful, atmospheric shot of small-boat river traffic on the edge of Saigon, in which the night sky is lit by battle explosions in the distance, is ruined by the film's intrusive, distracting opening credits; and 2) the prologue gives away a major plot development that would have been better left to come as a shock at the end.

These problematic narrative choices are, however, overshadowed by the fact that the brilliant Caine is aching yet understated as the weary but galvanized Fowler, and that Fraser plays Pyle with a seamless fusion of feigned naivete, genuine idealism, hints of a clandestine ulterior agenda and misguided love for Phuong.

Just as importantly, Noyce's direction never missteps again, and his attention to detail makes every frame of the movie sumptuously vibrant. His point-of-view shots place you directly in the path of conflicted emotions in the romantic subplot. The stillness Fowler creates around himself becomes all the more resonant when it's shattered by a car-bombing across the street from the European hotel where he sips his daily tea on the veranda. And Noyce's choice to linger on the carnage that follows has a visceral effect as Fowler is shaken to his core, deciding he can no longer remain a neutral observer.

This sets the stage for a conspiracy-fueled climax that thunders with fear and danger, aided in no small part by a spine-tingling score from composer Craig Armstrong.

As a political thriller, "The Quiet American" is taut and stunning. But even in its most intrigue-driven moments, the intensity of personal resolve -- the substance of the characters hearts and souls -- is what carries the movie.



The Quiet American

Facts and Figures

Run time: 101 mins

In Theaters: Friday 7th February 2003

Box Office USA: $12.8M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Production compaines: Miramax Films, Intermedia Films, Mirage Enterprises

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 132 Rotten: 19

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Thomas Fowler, as Alden Pyle, as Phuong, as Hinh Ma, as Joe Tunney, as Inspector Vigot

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style...

Paddington 2 Movie Review

Paddington 2 Movie Review

The first Paddington movie in 2014 is already such a beloved classic that it's hard...

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

Everyone's back from last year's undemanding adult comedy, plus some starry new cast members, for...

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler brought a blast of offbeat creativity to the Western genre two...

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

Fans of the film In the Loop and the TV series Veep will definitely not...

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983, this internationally flavoured drama is a...

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

The most riotously enjoyable Marvel movie yet, this action epic benefits hugely from the decision...

Advertisement
Breathe Movie Review

Breathe Movie Review

While this biopic has the standard sumptuous production values of a British period drama, it's...

The Snowman Movie Review

The Snowman Movie Review

With a cast and crew packed with A-list talent, this film seems like it should...

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.