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Saigon, 1951-2: 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:
First the good news: the DVD released here has all the same features that the US disc has. (Imagine the furore if it didn’t... and that’s just from Phillip Noyce.) Now for the better news: the transfer is superb and the features are exceptional. But we have come to expect as much from Noyce, whose understanding of the importance of digital cinematic archiving, history and of context has made him one of the most proficient filmmakers in this area.

The DVD bonus material also has its own star billing, with a feature commentary that gives voice to a broad range of those in front of the camera as well as behind it. The result is a thorough, complex and often riveting commentary which not only explains in minute detail the fascinating genesis and production of the film, but it says much about those involved – their motives and their perspectives, their relationships to the book, to Vietnam and to American foreign policy.

The film itself is, to my mind, an exceptional work, a subtle and penetrating film, 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.

The DVD offers both a 5 minute snapshot, mostly shot during the filming, and an extended, 22 minute Anatomy of a Scene, one of a series made by the Sundance Channel on films of interest. While they necessarily share some comments and footage, they are different angles on the film and both are worthwhile.

A well-considered feature, Vietnam Timeline, is a superbly produced historic overview that helps anyone seriously interested in the film’s core issues as a refresher in relevant history. You navigate through time, exploring decades from BC to the present. This is both an educational and even emotional experience within the context of the film.

Published October 16, 2003

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QUIET AMERICAN GHOSTS - a poignant and deeply personal response to Phillip Noyce’s film of The Quiet American by Cynthia Spencer



CAST: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija [Sherbedgia], Tzi Ma

DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce

SCRIPT: Robert Schenkkan, Christopher Hampton (novel by Graham Greene)

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced; DD 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by: director Phillip Noyce, producers William Horberg, Sydney Pollack, Staffan Ahrenberg, co-writer Christopher Hampton, actors Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Tzi Ma and interpreter/advisor Tran An Hua; Anatomy of a Scene; Original Featurette, Vietnam Timeline, Original book reviews of The Quiet American. Languages: English, Danish, Icelandic, Swedish


DVD RELEASE: (rental) June 25, 2003 ; (retail) October 16, 2003

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