THE QUIET AMERICAN, based on a Graham Greene novel, appears at first to be a
mystery and a thriller but quickly turns into an anti-American mood piece.
Its mysteries are transparently obvious, and it's too slowly paced to be a
Director Phillip Noyce, who last presented us with the effective but
one-sided RABBIT-PROOF FENCE, turns his attention this time to Vietnam in
1952, when the French were exiting and the Americans were arriving. The
movie is worth recommending because of two marvelous performances by Michael
Caine as London Times reporter Thomas Fowler and Brendan Fraser as an
American named Alden Pyle. If you don't immediately guess what Pyle does
for a living, you might want to want to take your brain into the shop for
repair. Caine deservedly received an Academy Award nomination for his part
as a reporter who claims that he just reports and never gets involved,
which, of course, means that he will get involved up to his eyeballs.
For a movie that tries hard to be pro-Vietnamese, it is surprising that none
of the Vietnamese actors stand out. In the story's third leading role, that
of Phuong, Thomas and Pyle's joint girlfriend , Noyce gets close to a zero
from beautiful actress Do Thi Hai Yen, who surely must be better than her
work in THE QUIET AMERICAN.
The movie concerns a "story of major proportions" that Thomas is working on.
What is it? Thomas doesn't know, but, if he doesn't come up with one
quickly, he won't be able to refuse his newspaper's order to come back home.
If he does leave, he will have to return to his wife in England and to
abandon Phuong, a girl young enough to be his granddaughter.
Thomas does stumble upon a story, a massacre at a remote village. Looking
upon a sea of bodies, he makes the movie's most telling comment. The
massacre couldn't have been done by the Communists because they don't do
that sort of thing. Excuse me?
Much of the movie feels awkward given the world's current crises in which it
isn't clear who is going to be giving weapons of mass destruction to which
terrorists and when. The most awkward of these moments comes when Pyle
complains that the French don't have "the brains or the guts" to act. Don't
be surprised if your audience starts squirming in their seats during that
THE QUIET AMERICAN runs 1:58. It is rated R for "violence and some
language" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes