The Quiet American Movie Review

Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg did it again this year. So did Steven Soderbergh, who seems to do it all the time. I'm talking about releasing two movies in the same year, a practice that can result in walloping one-two punches like 1993's Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, or swings-and-misses like Full Frontal and Solaris.

Joining their ranks is director Phillip Noyce, another director who has released two films in the same year, though he's the only one, in my opinion, who might find himself competing against his own film come awards season.

As much as I enjoyed the message driving Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence, the better of the director's two admittedly powerful films is The Quiet American, a passionate portrayal of love in a dangerous time that opens the door to so much more. The film stars Michael Caine (at his most relaxed) and Brendan Fraser (at his most, well, whatever it is he does) as two corners of a love triangle that's threatening to collapse.

We begin in Saigon, in the late-1950s. The French continue to wage war against the Vietnamese Communists, but - in typical French fashion - are on the verge of pulling out. Seasoned London Times reporter Thomas Fowler (Caine) has loosely covered the conflict for years, but is in danger of being recalled to England for lack of original story ideas.

Fowler has no intention of leaving Saigon. He's currently enjoying the creature comforts of his new exotic life, has fallen deeply in love with a Vietnamese dancer named Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), and has recently befriended Alden Pyle (Fraser), a Boston native working for the Economic Aid Commission.

Seeking to stave off a transfer back to the life (and wife) he detests, Fowler forges ahead on a bluffed story involving military activity in North Vietnam. A violent confrontation at Phat Diem has blown the lid off a much larger story that could point fingers directly at the United States and its increased involvement in the war in Vietnam.

The most genuine pleasure to be found in American is Caine, who masterfully inhabits the skin of his character. Fowler is a decent man enjoying life's splendors who genuinely believes he's earned that right. Caine is so convincing, it's hard to think otherwise. Though he recently collected his second Supporting Actor Oscar after coasting through The Cider House Rules, he seriously earns what would be his sixth nod here.

Together with Fraser - who is polite, courteous, and inoffensive to a fault - the two actors convincingly portray men nourished by their love of the same woman. Caine sells it better, largely because he's more talented but also because he's given tremendous lines like, "To lose her, for me, would be the beginning of death." My knees are going weak, and I'm straight.

Noyce cleverly employs point-of-view camera shots during the film's lengthy passages of dialogue, which helps us feel part of the doomed relationships. Despite the gorgeous but charcoaled Saigon locales, we temporarily forget this love triangle is playing out in war-torn Vietnam, and the screenplay - working from a Graham Greene novel - keeps us in the dark on several key political plot points until they become absolutely necessary to advance the story.

All along, Fowler and Pyle's pissing match over Phuong rightfully overshadows the engaging political/military subplot until the war works its way into the heart of Saigon with explosive fashion. That's when the mystery begins to unravel at a fevered pace, and American draws us in completely. Quiet is a strong drama. You'll want to sing its praises loudly.

The film's DVD adds a commentary track, making-of featurette, and an interesting timeline of events in Vietnam dating back to the 1940s. Even if you don't thrill to the movie, its utility for children's research papers is invaluable.

All in favor of another little gold statue?


The Quiet American Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 2002


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