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The Quiet American /

Rated: R

Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Rade Serbedzija, Do Hai Yen, Do Thi Hai Yen 

Directed by: Phillip Noyce 

Produced by: Sydney Pollack, William Horberg, Staffan Ahrenberg 

Written by: Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan 

Distributor: Miramax

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Note: After a second viewing of The Quiet American I have decided to bump the rating up from a 3 1/2 to a 4. Once again, ratings are stupid and arbitrary, but this 4 will bump it up on my "Best of the Year" list.

“They say that when you come to Vietnam, you understand a lot in five minutes. The rest you have to live…”

     Or so says Michael Caine, who plays Thomas Fowler, in The Quiet American. On the surface, this is a film about the events that led up to American involvement in the Vietnam War. In truth, The Quiet American is a study of human relationships interfering with one’s work and life’s realities. This brilliantly written piece, adapted from Graham Greene’s ingenious novel, is derived from pure intelligence. Films like The Quiet American are rare gems of the industry, which appear on the screens of multiplexes far too little. All theatrical releases should model themselves after them. Stunning performances by Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, a brilliantly adapted screenplay written by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan, and admirably effective work behind the camera from Phillip Noyce make this work a memorable figure. Occasionally stiff moments and unnecessary material are what ultimately flaw The Quiet American. Nevertheless, it is still a beautifully made, and very respectable, picture.

     Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine, who was nominated for “Best Actor” at the Academy Awards for his performance) is a British journalist, happily settled in Saigon, Vietnam. It’s 1952, during the invasion of the French and the rival communists, prior to the United States’ involvement in the war. Fowler is fond of Vietnam, as well as his occupation, despite the ongoing war. He is in an intimate relationship with Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), a native Vietnamese woman. They would like to marry, and spend the rest of their lives together. But, one problem withholds them from doing such. Mr. Fowler is already married, to a woman back in England, who won’t divorce him. However, they do intend to live together as if they were married; just without the official document licensing it. For Fowler, Vietnam is a serene and peaceful place, despite the many hardships that the country is facing. But, when Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), comes to work as an American medical aid in Vietnam, and becomes fairy close with him; all goes wrong. Pyle makes a move, in attempt to steal Phuong from Fowler. He is unmarried, and would also like to spend his entire life with this lovely lady, just like Fowler. Now, a question faces Phuong, which one to choose? The obvious answer would be Thomas, but her grasp on the situation lessens as time moves on, and deception factors into the war between the two men, for the lovely woman.

     The shockingly powerful depth of Sir Michael Caine’s subtly stirring performance is what keeps the entire film on a prosperous track. Stunning in his deeply moving execution, Caine not only once again proves himself as an actor, but also shows us his ability to make questionable material work. The Quiet American is about a visceral war, but is so intelligently provoking; it doesn’t need to resort to violence to explain the several brutalities of the topic. This is often expressed by Caine and his character. He brings a powerful jolt about the material, without overacting. His co-star, Brendan Fraser, respectably pursues his character, as well. Pyle, in a way, is the mastermind of the entire movie. Fraser plays him in a way that clearly brings out his emotions, which sets the tone and pacing for the entire duration of the film. Do Thi Hai Yen performs well, too, and faithfully brings the role of Phuong to life. She has a distinctively native Vietnamese look about her, as she was born in the country, which helps maintain a realistic aroma in all of the scenes that she appears in. But, her appearance and accent aren’t all to rave about. Elegant and eloquent in a constantly enriching performance, Thi Hai Yen is a respectively talented actress. While the performances are just one of the many positive features showcased in The Quiet American, they are sure to be some of the best of the year.

     Phillip Noyce’s direction and Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan’s adapted screenplay merge to create an impressive product of ingenuity. The dialogue in the film is where it most excellently excels. The beautifully written and witty lines combine with the prevailing shots, to bring out a meaningful expression. Director Noyce cleverly hydrates dry spots in the film with masterful shots and emotionally tingling scene transitions. The Quiet American is a film that was tough to adapt, and tough to direct. It’s actually quite amazing that Noyce, Hampton, and Schenkkan were able to do just this; it’s definitely admirable. The adaptation cleverly entwines dialogue and emotions, representing two completely different feeling, but escalates onto a psychological level, where viewers will be able to sense both feelings at the same time. This is the magic of The Quiet American. It is strong in almost every area, which leaves us at an incredible ease, and enables us to sense each emotion being exchanged between characters. This is a snaky film, that’s an absolute treat to catch.

     Almost unflawed, The Quiet American makes a great mystery, and is appreciable in all aspects of film. With the grim year ahead, this one looks like it’ll be one of the best of two-thousand-three, even though I’ve certainly regretted saying such in past years. Immaculately performed, gracefully adapted, and perfectly directed; I’ll leave it at that. And, at no more, now you’ll be able to rush to your vehicle, drive to the local cinema, and buy a few tickets for one of the best films in release at this time – The Quiet American.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews


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