The Quiet American
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
the quiet american This film, which has been on a shelf for the past year, simply could not be any more timely, as it subtly and unflinchingly examines American foreign policy in 1950s Indo-China and digs far under the surface of today's global crises. The story is told by the British journalist Fowler (Caine), in 1952 Saigon covering the revolutionary war between the communist Vietnamese and the colonial French. He has a local mistress Phuong (Hai Yen), whom he loves deeply, and when they meet the American economist Pyle (Fraser) they immediately become friends. But all kinds of wrinkles develop, from Pyle's attraction to Phuong to the fact that he may have more to do with the Americans meddling in the war than anyone thought.

This is incendiary stuff, as it clearly exposes the roots of the Vietnamese war more than a decade later, not to mention similar problems that have escalated globally over the past several decades. Just because we're in a supposedly patriotic season at the moment does not mean American foreign policy is beyond criticism--quite the contrary! But there's more than politics to this film; at the heart of it is a terrific story tracing Fowler's shifting opinions and actions--the more he learns the harder he finds it to remain a passive observer. On every level. This is very well-played by Caine in easily his best performance in recent memory. While Fowler's story is compelling and startlingly personal, Pyle's romance/drama isn't quite as involving. Fraser is very good, but Pyle seems almost like a spectre in the film, a symbol of something much larger, which makes the character's intimacies fall a bit flat.

Noyce directs with a refreshing subtlety that doesn't thickly lay on the important themes--he never preaches, keeping his focus on the central drama while outlining the political events that surround it, hinting at the evidence and implications, and then powerfully letting us put two and two together. The film is also technically stunning, from Christopher Doyle's lush cinematography to Craig Armstrong's emotive music. The literate script by Hampton and Schenkkan is based on Graham Greene's controversial novel (watered down in a 1958 film adaptation). Quite frankly, this is must-see cinema on various levels--superior filmmaking and themes that scream out to be considered, talked about and acted upon right now.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 22.Oct.02 lff

dir Phillip Noyce
scr Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan
with Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen, Rade Serbedgia, Pham Thi Mai Hoa, Tzi Ma, Robert Stanton, Holmes Osborne, Quang Hai, Ferdinand Hoang, Mathias Mlekuz, Khoa Do
release US/UK 29.Nov.02
02/Australia 1h41

On the front. Pyle and Fowler walk through a Vietnamese military camp (Frasier and Caine)


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send your review to Shadows... "An absolutely fantastic film - powerful, beautiful, intelligent, provocative and startling. Michael Caine is superb - better than ever - and is one of many involved in the film who ought to get an Oscar, but probably won't due to the anti-American foreign policy subject matter." --James, London 12.Dec.02 the quiet american

"**** Phil Noyce's excellent adaptation of the Graham Greene novel pits a journalist (Caine) against his CIA agent 'friend' (Fraser). The perceived anti-American tone of the book and hence the film led to it being given the cold shoulder by distributor Miramax, the US media and audiences. A must see, and especially so since the dumb old Yanks haven't learnt from history and seem set to repeat their mistakes in East Asia yet again in the Middle East. Silly Fools!" --Gawain McLachlan, Filmnet, Melbourne 14.Mar.03

"Why for God's sake does NO ONE comment on Do Thi Yen? Don't you people see that she is a fabulous actress? No comments, no info. Is it hopeless snobism or something else? I want to know more about this actress." --Evgeny Soifertis, England 2.Apr.03

2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall