The Quiet American

on November 22, 2002 by Susan Green
“Things are more complicated than they seem,” suggests seasoned reporter Thomas Fowler in “The Quiet American,” another take on the 46-year-old novel by Graham Greene. A 1958 cinematic version starred Michael Redgrave and Audie Murphy. The fictitious British journalist, played by Michael Caine in Philip Noyce's new film, is talking about the cultural and political nuances of Vietnam in the early 1950s. The French are fighting Ho Chi Minh's forces for control of the divided country, where the U.S. is just beginning an entanglement that will last more than two decades. Things in Indochina might be complicated, but the film itself oversimplifies an intricate history.

Fueled by cynicism, Fowler provides only marginal coverage of the conflict for the London Times. Long separated from a wife back home, he is obsessed with his beautiful young mistress Phuong (Hai Yen Do). The man also has an affinity for opium, less prominent in the movie than on the printed page. His contentment in the midst of Saigon's intrigue and corruption is disrupted by the arrival of diplomat Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), the title character. As an apparently naïve idealist, this Boston native believes his rah-rah values can save both Phuong and her homeland from evildoers.

To trace the circumstances of Pyle's murder--a demise revealed in early scenes--the plot flashes back through memories narrated by Fowler. They become romantic rivals who care about each other, until a covert betrayal overwhelms personal issues. But Caine is too overtly emotional for the role; Fowler should be more reserved, with a dry, sardonic wit that stings. “The Quiet American” lacks sting. Its love story eclipses rather than complements the inherent spy thriller that skewers Yankee imperialism in the book. After 9/11, perhaps Noyce figured a less-than-patriotic outlook might dismay an unquiet American distributor. Starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Hai Yen Do, Rade Serbedzija and Tai Yen Do. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Written by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan. Produced by Staffan Ahrenberg, William Horberg, Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack. A Miramax release. Historical drama. Rated R for images of violence and some language. Running time: 101 min.

Tags: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Hai Yen Do, Rade Serbedzija, Tai Yen Do, Phillip Noyce, Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan, Staffan Ahrenberg, William Horberg, Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Miramax, Historical Drama

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