The Quiet American

The Quiet American

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Right from the opening scenes of harbour lights on the water in Saigon, the quality of this production is clear. Philip Noyce has always been a promising director, and here he shows what he can do with a real budget and real stars. Working with a superb crew, he brings to life all of the lush and alien character of Fifties Vietnam, introducing it as a central player in Graham Greene's poetic tale of a journalist gradually forced to abandon the neutrality of his observer's role in life.

Michael Caine is perfect as the cynical Englishman Tom Fowler, a link between the colonial world and its masters, gradually becoming obsolete. There is a parallel to the international situation in his relationship with a much younger local woman, Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), though it is clear early on that there are personal feelings between them which run much deeper. As so often in Greene's stories, there is a refusal to let the course of human emotion be steered by anything so crude as destiny; this is the kind of role which Caine has deserved for years, playing someone his own age, someone not hidden behind cheery Cockney bullshit, a vulnerable but sharply intelligent man trying to approach the world on his own terms.

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But war is coming to Vietnam (a war predicted in Greene's book some years before the actual intervention of US troops), and conflict comes also to Fowler's marriage with the arrival of Brendan Fraser's quiet but insistent American. Fraser is a generally underrated actor whose clean cut Hollywood appearance has often limited him to mediocre parts, but here it all works in his favour; physically, he does a very good job of representing America as perceived in Vietnam at that time, being at once glamorous, gentle and friendly, but also a subtle sort of bully, whose very size ultimately makes him seem more vulnerable.

While in places it might be said that he underplays his character too much, he works well opposite Caine, and the two form a believable friendship despite the American falling for Phuong. But there is more to this quiet man than meets the eye, and ultimately Fowler must choose whether to keep his distance and watch as the values he holds dear are discarded, or whether to take action, and risk becoming what he hates. The result is a powerful and affecting piece of cinema, intelligent and altogether worthy of its literary origins.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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A veteran correspondent goes native in pre-Vietnam War Saigon.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Phillip Noyce

Writer: Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan, based on the novel by Graham Greene

Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija, Tzi Ma, Robert Stanton, Holmes Osborne, Quang Hai

Year: 2002

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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