QUIET AMERICAN, THE
Saigon, 1952: a beautiful, exotic and mysterious city caught in the grip of the Vietnamese war of liberation from the French colonialists. New arrival Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), an idealistic American aid worker, befriends veteran London Times correspondent Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine). When Fowler introduces Pyle to his beautiful young Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Do Hai Yen), the three are swept up in a tempestuous love triangle that leads to a series of startling revelations and finally murder. Nothing, and no one, is what they seem.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Phil Noyce’s The Quiet American is a subtle and penetrating work, made to look effortless; nothing is forced or pushed, so much so that it’s easy to overlook the extraordinary challenges posed by Graham Greene’s novel. The subject matter is vexing, the setting of the early 50s problematic, the casting critical and the demands of a screenplay nightmarish. No wonder it took several years and several writers to hone the script – and
marvelous it is, well worth the effort. So is the casting; as Fowler, Michael Caine returns to his best form in a relatively minimalist yet gripping performance that is totally convincing with its ambiguities circling its certainties, its vulnerability weaving around its strengths. The remarkable Brendan Fraser delivers a perfectly judged Alden Pyle, a blend of romantic idealist and political meddler, a naïve as well as a quiet American – with an agenda. The pretty Do Hai Yen is appealing and effective as the lovely Phuong, a symbol for Vietnam itself. Christopher Doyle’s cinematography and Roger Ford’s production design (enhanced by a talented and devoted Vietnamese contingent) combine to give us haunting images, carried along by an inventive and subtle score from Craig Armstrong. The film’s large scale political punch is always referenced with its human drama, and there is a sense of economy about the script and the direction which makes the film lean and taut. The Quiet American is a sophisticated, satisfying film, filled with the currents and tides of the ocean of humanity. Its relevance is beyond doubt, and its power is haunting.
Review by Louise Keller:
Two men, a woman and a war form the central focus of The Quiet American, a devastating love triangle set on the tumultuous backdrop of war in the 50s in French Vietnam. Miraculously, Phil Noyce has created a rich and powerful work that nurtures the very essence of the story, while enriching the Vietnamese sensitivity. He avoids falling into any of the pitfalls of predictability or melodrama, but allows us to feel as though we are there, living in the confusion, the emotional turmoil and physical conflict as it happens. The political metaphors describing the arrogance of America, the conservatism of British colonialism and the innocence of Vietnam are gracefully integrated into the themes of political mystery, murder, and romance. In the translation from Graham Greene’s novel to the screen, the collaboration of Oscar-winning writer Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) and other writers, has meticulously developed an equilibrium and a profound balance in the weight of its two leading men characters, essential to the structure and dramatic curve of the story. An intense music score plus Christopher Doyle’s atmospheric cinematography (‘It was like looking through the silk screen of a beautiful Vietnamese dress’) take us on an unforgettable journey to a uniquely compelling land. A story on two levels that are both of aesthetic and subliminal issues, the Suzy Wong love triangle is the catalyst that drives the push-pull relationship between Fowler and Pyle. The catalyst for the battle and balance of life is symbolised by Phoung, a beautiful traditional flower, who as yet has been untarnished by the sordid ugliness of life and war. She represents untouched beauty, and when Pyle falls in love with her at first sight, it is the beginning of a relationship that focuses not on passion, but on security and preservation of beauty. Fowler’s life of complacency is jolted into action – both physically and emotionally – as he is forced to make a choice and a commitment. It’s great casting with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, and both bring power and credibility to their performances. Caine is essentially the heart of the film, effecting a subtle, yet shattering transformation, while Fraser reveals himself to be a man of many secrets, the most telling line being ‘Are we ever what we appear to be?’ Newcomer Do Hai Yen, who learnt to speak English for the role of Phoung, is perfect as the object of desire, epitomising beauty, femininity and dependency. A gripping story that impacts profoundly, The Quiet American is a strong, intelligent film that resonates loudly by its relevant and vital international themes.
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PHILLIP NOYCE INTERVIEW
and MICHAEL CAINE INTERVIEW
By Andrew L. Urban
FEATURE - a personal response to the film
QUIET AMERICAN, THE (M)
CAST: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija [Sherbedgia], Tzi Ma
PRODUCERS: William Horberg, Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Staffan Ahrenberg
DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce
SCRIPT: Robert Schenkkan, Christopher Hampton (novel by Graham Greene)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christopher Doyle
EDITOR: John Scott
MUSIC: Craig Armstrong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Roger Ford
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 16, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: [To Rent] June 25, 2003 (Also available on DVD)
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.