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"THE QUIET AMERICAN"
(2002) (Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A world weary British reporter becomes suspicious of an American's political and romantic motives when the latter keeps showing up in various hot spots and tries to win over his mistress's heart in 1950s era Vietnam.
PLOT:
It's 1952 Saigon and Thomas Fowler (MICHAEL CAINE) is a reporter for the London Times who does not intend to return to married life in England. That's because he's become entranced by the beauty of the land as well as that of his mistress, Phuong (DO THI HAI YEN), who he's been seeing for several years, much to the dismay of her sister.

She feels that American Economics Aid worker Alden Pyle (BRENDAN FRASER) would be a better catch for Phuong. Bitten by the love at first site bug, Alden thinks the same thing upon meeting her and Thomas.

The reporter has more pressing problems, however, as his paper wants him to return home. Needing a story, he travels to a remote hot spot where he not only runs into Pyle, but also witness the aftermath of a massacre that may or may not have been the work of the communists. Upon a trip to interview upstart General Thé (QUANG HAI), Thomas once again encounters Pyle and begins to grow suspicious of whether he has dealings with suspected government operatives including Joe Tunney (ROBERT STANTON) and Bill Granger (HOLMES OBSORNE).

With such suspicion growing along with his jealousy toward Pyle trying to win Phuong's heart despite knowing she's involved with Thomas, it's only a matter of time before things come to a violent head, all of which eventually involve Inspector Vigot (RADE SHERBEDGIA) investigating a serious crime.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
It's not unusual for people to become enamored with or seduced by cities and/or foreign countries they visit. Of course, that's mostly because they're usually on vacation, but such a spell can also occur even when some people are working on location.

Not only does that happen in real-life, but it also does the same in the movies where any number of characters have fallen under the spell of their new environs (or wished to start a new life by escaping from their old ones).

That tradition continues in "The Quiet American," the cinematic adaptation of Graham Green's 1955 novel about a British expatriate living in 1950s era Vietnam. A reporter for the London Times, Thomas Fowler has become entranced by the exotic beauty of the land as well as that of his mistress and has no plans of returning to the Majesty's home turf.

Viewers are likely to be entranced themselves by the film as well as the masterful performance by Michael Caine ("Last Orders," "The Cider House Rules") in the lead role. While director Phillip Noyce ("Rabbit-Proof Fence," "Clear and Present Danger") and screenwriters Christopher Hampton ("The Secret Agent," "Mary Reilly") and Robert Schenkhan (making his feature debut) don't ever delve too deeply into the specific reasons behind the spell, they and Caine have no problems making the viewer believe the protagonist's mindset.

Those with a long memory are apt to think of 1983's "The Year of Living Dangerously" with Mel Gibson playing a journalist where romance and danger were interwoven in 1960s era Indonesia. Whereas Gibson's character was new to the locale and situation, however, Caine's feels like he's been in Vietnam forever and then some. As was the case with that film, Noyce is just as successful at creating the necessary and effective mood and aura in which his character operates.

Just like his surroundings, though, the protagonist's life is in for a radical change. Appropriately enough --considering the time and place -- both come courtesy of Americans who've arrived with the intent of getting what they want. In this case, they're personified by Brendan Fraser ("Gods and Monsters," the "Mummy" movies"). His character is oozing in symbolism as he's attempting to help the sight (literal and figurative) of the locals and ends up opening the eyes of both Fowler and his mistress - alluringly played by Do Thi Hai Yen ("The Vertical Ray of the Sun," "Song of the Stork").

Beyond all of that, the film is also something of a murder mystery in that it opens with the discovery of a body belonging to the "Quiet American." Various characters learn of this murder and we're then sent back in time to meet and learn about them and others. Since that setup pretty much announces who the victim is, the result is more of a whodunit and "whytheydidit" puzzle rather than one where we try to figure out who's going to buy it in the end.

That then leads to both a love triangle (with Fraser's character moving in on Thomas' mistress) and questions regarding the identity, purpose and/or integrity of several characters, all of which the cast and crew manage to pull off successfully and satisfactorily.

As the world weary reporter, Caine has rarely been better as he makes the character believable with what looks like such little effort on the surface. Fraser decently plays opposite him and again proves that he should give up the silly roles for meatier and more rewarding ones like this. The two create a credible relationship that's part adversarial, part wary, but always respectful, and the ebb and flow of tension between them makes the film captivating to behold.

While I don't know how fans of Greene's novel will react to this adaptation, it stands and works quite well on its own. With terrific performances and a masterfully deft directorial touch by Noyce, the film is nothing short of hypnotic and engaging. "The Quiet American" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed November 19, 2002 / Posted February 7, 2003


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