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The Quiet American

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Quiet American

Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser
Director: Phillip Noyce
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: November 2002
Genres: Drama, Suspense, War

*Also starring: Rade Serbedzija, Tzi Ma, Robert Stanton, Do Thi Hai Yen, Holmes Osborne, Quang Hai, Tzi Ma

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

A temporary casualty of the World Trade Center destruction on September 11, 2001, "The Quiet American" was put on a shelf presumably because some in the U.S. might be in no mood for a story critical of our country's role in Vietnam. While the United States does not come out smelling of Chanel, one could hardly take umbrage at a movie whose critical tone does not begin to compare with that of the extraordinary activities of peace groups throughout the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s opposing America's role in the Southeast Asian country. Perhaps only those under the age of thirty-seven, Americans who had not been born when the Vietnam War ended in 1975 and who to this day may have heard of President Johnson only in their history classes, would be offended. Nonetheless with film studios so attuned to the public mood that even a movie about a sniper had to be temporarily shelved because of a real-live duo of thrill- seeking gunmen, we need not wonder that "The Quiet American" can be released here only now.

And how lucky we are that the well-deserved reviews from the Toronto Film Festival led to its opening in the U.S., because Philip Noyce's adaptation of Graham Greene's slim but powerful novel provides not only an eye-catching probe of French and American foreign policy during the early 1950's but provides a platform for the superb talent of Michael Caine in the role of a British journalist covering the war.

To this day, even Americans who are aware of U.S. involvement in Vietnam may know only vaguely that the French were there before, seeking to maintain their hold on that poverty-stricken nation for no other reason, one would guess, than maintaining the prestige of colonial expansion. As Britain was neutral, the coverage of the war provided by English journalist Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine), seemed secure enough but his position in spacious housing depended on continued financial support from London. Fowler may not have grown to love his assignment, but he was in no mood to return to his unhappy marriage in London now that he enjoys the love of his beautiful mistress, Phuong (Hai Yen. Trouble arises when an idealistic American Aid worker, Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), introduced himself to the reporter, and falls in love at first sight with Fowler's girlfriend-who to Fowler's joy rejects the younger man's proposal of marriage.

Things are not what they seem in love and war, however, and the romantic triangle and the political and military activities in Saigon and in neighboring villages will lead to revelations of secrets, betrayals, and murder.

If Mr. Fraser seems ill-at-ease and stiff, his style may be what attracted director Philip Noyce to the engaging American actor since, after all, Fraser's character must convey what was then America's naive optimism about world affairs. Though Pyle is a more dangerous fellow than he seems, he exudes silliness more than arrogance when he proposes to Phuong while standing inches away from his older, wiser rival. Michael Caine delivers his signature cynicism with a twinkle in his eye when, observing the proposal of the young man asks him, "Shouldn't you be down on one knee?" Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan's literate script takes us beyond the dumbed-down version of "The Quiet American" from its 1958 adaptation into a thoroughly three- dimensional portrait of the land as it fought the French fifty years ago, right up to America's increasing involvement even before the French were finally defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

This is, as the production notes state, the Vietnam movie that has not been made, a now subtle, now explosive struggle for power in both the sexual domain and the political arena.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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