The Quiet American (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner26/11/2002

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 101 mins

Decent adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, with an excellent, potentially Oscar-worthy performance by Michael Caine.

With such unremittingly awful films as The Bone Collector, Sliver and The Saint among Phillip Noyce’s recent output, the average filmgoer could be forgiven for fleeing the cinema in terror upon seeing his ‘A Film By…’ credit.

From Bad To…Much Better Actually!

However, at this particular moment in time, he appears to be undergoing a renaissance, both in terms of quality and quantity (nothing for three years then two films out at once), with both The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence hitting our screens within a week of each other.

The films also have something more in common than just their release dates and director, as both movies are overtly political and, as such, are more akin to the sort of films Noyce was making at the start of his career in Australia. Noyce has also learned the valuable First Rule Of Remakes (perhaps from Steven Soderbergh), in that he has chosen to remake The Quiet American, the original of which was not all that good in the first place.

Saigon…1952…

The film is set in Saigon, in 1952. Michael Caine plays British newspaperman Thomas Fowler, who is summoned to explain his relationship with ‘quiet American’ Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) after the latter is discovered murdered. The rest of the story unfolds in flashback…

Fowler’s existence in Saigon is a simple one – ostensibly there to cover the fight for Independence from French colonial rule, he has carved out an enjoyable life for himself with local beauty Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen) and the odd spot of opium here and there. However, after Fowler befriends ‘US aid worker’ Pyle, he finds both his relationship and his politically stable surroundings under threat.

The Quiet American has had something of a troubled journey from production to its eventual release, with Miramax Big Cheese Harvey Weinstein initially threatening not to release it in the post-September period because of the somewhat dim view it takes of covert American foreign policy.

Caine Tells It How It Is

According to Caine, it was his own personal intervention – coupled with a favourable critical reception at the Toronto Film Festival - that convinced him to change his mind and, sure enough, the film will be receiving the traditional Miramax Oscar Push, with Caine himself likely to benefit as a result.

To be fair, Caine is excellent and this is easily the best performance he has given in quite some time – he makes Fowler likeable and sympathetic and yet he isn’t afraid to show his more unpleasant, pitiable side either. Fraser is well cast too, with his clean-cut ‘heroic’ look for once used to mask an interesting darker side to his character.

That’s not to say the film is entirely without flaws. It drags in places, for example, although the impressive climax makes up for a lot of that. And at least it’s better than the 1958 version…

In short, The Quiet American is worth seeing, particularly for Caine’s almost-certain-to-be-nominated performance.

Read our Michael Caine interview here

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Content updated: 22/10/2017 12:54

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