I know this will probably rile fans of Harry Palmer, Alfie Elkins and Charlie Croker (Caine’s 60s 'heroes’), not to mention aficionados of Sleuth and Hannah And Her Sisters (a role for which I felt he was miscast), but Philip Noyce’s 2002 part-romance, part-political thriller, based on Graham Greene’s novel and set in 1950s Vietnam, seems to be a part tailor-made for Michael Caine and he delivers in spades. Here, his 'restrained acting’ fits perfectly the role of expat, married Times journalist Thomas Fowler, whose relaxed 'colonial lifestyle’ and obsessive love for Do Thi Hai Yen’s ex-hostess, Phuong, is thrown into turmoil by his adopted country’s increasing political unrest and the arrival on the scene of Brendan Fraser’s (ostensible) American aid worker, Alden Pyle.
What is (for me, at least) most remarkable about Noyce’s film (fuelled by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan’s screenplay) is the way it seamlessly melds its romantic and political elements and delivers equally effectively on both fronts (a rare feat, I feel, and, in this respect, reminding me – oddly enough – of Casablanca!). Noyce sets up the 'post-colonial’ milieu for the film very evocatively – ably assisted by Christopher Doyle’s (for him) relatively unflashy cinematography – as drunken, racist, sexist expats drink in the bars and clubs, Vietnamese women look for ways out (i.e. marriage to a foreigner) and shady characters lurk in the background (including Pyle’s ‘friend’, Robert Stanton’s Joe Tunney). And, even though the film is, for at least its first half, predominantly a brilliantly subtle and unsentimental study of Fowler’s increasing 'insecurity in love’, its political dimension is never far from the surface, as the increasingly troubled hack suspects that all is not as it seems and that the suave, smooth-talking Pyle has links to the country’s new 'political party’ – purportedly being set up to provide an alternative to the vying French colonialists and Communist-backed Viet Minh.
Acting-wise, both Fraser and Hai Yen are very impressive, but Caine really is the powerhouse here – full of repressed emotion, conflicted views and (eventually) latent guilt. Noyce’s film is certainly not action-packed, more of a slow-burning character study (for the most part), which makes the film’s climactic denouement all the more shocking – and brings home the film’s powerful anti-war message, overriding the more personal concerns of the film’s protagonists. I remember being impressed with Noyce’s film when I first saw it on its initial release – if anything, seeing it again I was even more taken aback by its qualities.
I came to this film as a fan of both Graham Greene and Michael Caine. The screenplay is a very faithful adaptation of the novel, and the characterisation and settings are excellent. The Vietnamese scenery is stunning throughout, the mud-blasted hell of Phat Diem contrasting vividly with the polite finesse of French-Colonial Saigon. Caine dominates the picture with a mighty but human performance as Fowler, the journalist desperately trying to cling on to his relationship with young Vietnamese beauty Phuong (played by the lovely Do Thi Hai Yen). Into their world comes the quiet American, Aiden Pyle, played in a suitably underhand manner by a chubby Brendan Fraser.
The film is well-paced and the "action" sequences are very well done, particularly the infamous bombing in the square which is recreated with frightening realism. I found it all totally gripping, even though I knew the plot and the outcome. The scenes between Caine and Fraser show these two at their very best, Caine surely at yet another high in his career.
In terms of extras, you don't get much - just a documentary on the filming of the bomb sequence, which is interesting. But I often feel there is too much emphasis on DVD extras anyway - in this case the film itself is more than enough and one that will repay many viewings.
The quiet American in question is the corpse of an aid worker found floating in the Saigon river by the French authorities. The identity of the corpse is revealed early in the movie and the circumstances behind the murder is skillfully told in extended flashbacks by director Phillip Noyce in this excellent adaptation of Graham Greene’s deeply moral novel of the same name. It is the early 1950s and France is slowly losing control of its Indochinese colony of Vietnam to the Viet Minh independence movement. Into this political maelstrom arrives Alden Pyle, a polite and seemingly naïve medical aid worker whose covert mission is gradually revealed through a complex and absorbing narrative. He rapidly establishes a friendship with Thomas Fowler, an English reporter working for the London Times newspaper, a cynical, opium-smoking, world-weary, apolitical middle-aged hack whose only reason for living appears to be his relationship with a much younger Vietnamese lover, the beautiful and graceful Phuong. When Pyle becomes smitten with Phuong, her manipulative and protective older sister spies an opportunity and a ‘romantic love triangle’ ensues. Fearing that he might be recalled to London due to the paucity of his journalistic output (and therefore lose Phuong) Fowler decides to actively report on the escalating war and in doing so begins to discover anomalies in Pyle’s professed occupation and activities.
The Quiet American succeeds both as a romantic and political drama due to an intelligent screenplay, supported by exceptional cinematography and a luscious film score as they combine to project a unique place and time. Undoubtedly, Michael Caine’s portrayal of the pitiful Fowler is impressive, exhibiting a remarkable depth and poignancy as he struggles to come to terms with the reality around him and the moral choices which confront him. However, Brendan Fraser’s performance as Pyle is certainly noteworthy, as he demonstrates a similar quality of acting seen in the 1998 film Gods and Monsters when he played opposite the imposing Ian McKellen. I loved this film and will definitely be watching it again in the future.
on 1 September 2003
When I bought my ticket for this film in the cinema I immediately regretted buying it and nearly turned back to get a refund based on my pre-judged assumptions that this was to be a terrible film. The misleading trailers that created this image gave way for an immensely pleasant surprise as I watched the film.
Set in Vietnam, the story follows Michael Cane as a journalist, living with his Vietnamese mistress, reporting on events during the war. A friendship with Brandon Fraser, leads to an unravelling plot of conspiring events in Vietnam based around this friendship, and the test of friendship when a woman is added into the equation.
The films excellent story proves to be a film that keeps the watcher constantly thinking, suspicious of all characters and in a changing mindset of what will unravel next.
An excellent film, well worth watching!!!
Although Michael Caine was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, this film went largely unnoticed. That's a shame, as it presents a true love story form a period of time in a place largely ignored - 1952 Vietnam. Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is a married British journalist who is in love with a beautiful young Vietnamese woman and writes for the British press. He has found his true paradise. Director Philip Noyce is able to bring out the humid, romantic nuance of war-torn Vietnam. An American physician named Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) appears out of nowhere and confesses his love for Fowler's lover. What ensues is a seemingly gentlemanly sparring for the affections of Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). As the story unfolds, we find that Pyle is not all he seems, Fowler is less lazy than previously thought and Phuong is torn (with lots of help from her selfish sister). The revelations come slowly and subtly and the back-drop of the early fifties Vietnam is hypnotizing. By the end of the film, the surprises are revealed and nothing is what it had seemed, although the viewer is left with the nagging thought of what will happen after this?
on 25 September 2013
Fowler, (played by Michael Caine) is a seasoned correspondent working for 'The Times' newspaper in Vietnam at a time when French Colonial power is in decline and Communism in the ascendancy. He prides himself on his neutrality professing himself to be a reporter because he reports on affairs but does not get involved.
It is no doubt because of his knowledge of the country that he finds himself being approached by the eponymous quiet American who purports to work for the American Economic Aid mission and wants to learn more about Vietnam.
Initially Fowler is to some extent drawn in by the understated manner of a man who seems a long way removed from the stereotypically brash and loud Americans that he has previously encountered. However, he also has a slightly supercilious attitude towards the American finding the faith that he places in a third way for Vietnam, which is neither French colonialism nor Communism, and which will be based on democracy, to be rather naive and idealistic. All the same, Fowler wrongly supposes that the American is harmless enough and subsequently discovers that he has badly underestimated him.
Like the novel, the film successfully intertwines the personal and the political and gives us characters who are presented in morally ambivalent terms. It presents a conflict between New World values represented by America and Old World values represented by the Europeans and shows us how CIA involvement in Vietnam ultimately propels Fowler into abandoning his neutrality and making a difficult moral choice.
This is a visually impressive and thought-provoking film; in every way an excellent evening's entertainment.
The Quiet American," (2002), a romantic war/political drama, is the second treatment to be made of the book of the same name, The Quiet American, by the great British master of the spy story, and several other genres, Graham Greene. An earlier, American treatment starring Audie Murphy, attempted to leach out its undoubted anti-Americanism. This treatment, by British director Philip Noyce, (Patriot Games ), leaves the strong anti-Americanism in. So much so that, although Miramax had paid $5.5 million for the rights to distribute the movie in North America and some other territories, they shelved it for more than a year after the attacks of 9/11/01, and planned to send it straight to video. But the hugely talented starring actor Michael Caine,(Alfie,The Man Who Would Be King ), who was to be Oscar nominated for his part here, persuaded Miramax to screen it at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival. It then received many good reviews, so Miramax decided to chance a theatrical release of it in the United States.
At its heart, this murder mystery centers on a love triangle set against the French Indochina War in 1952 Vietnam. It's set in, and was filmed in, Saigon, then in the midst of the debilitating Vietnamese war of liberation against its French colonial masters. Soon to be followed by the overwhelmingly destructive Vietnamese struggle against American forces. The city was, then as now, a beautiful, exotic, mysterious place, suffused with opium, intrigue and betrayal. Caine, playing British reporter Thomas Fowler, correspondent for the London Times, loves his young Vietnamese mistress Phuong, but cannot get a divorce from his unseen British wife. He is dismayed when a recently arrived idealistic young American aid worker, graduate of an Ivy League University, Alden Pyle (played by Canadian born Brendan Fraser, Blast from the Past ), with whom he becomes friendly, also begins to vie for her attention. The tempestuous love triangle that results leads to a series of startling revelations, and, ultimately, murder. Rade Serbedzija, who played a singing Emile de Becque in a 2002 television treatment of South Pacific [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC], is on hand as Inspector Vigot, given the thankless task of trying to figure it all out.
Nothing, and no one, is as it seems, in this adaptation of Graham Greene's classic powerful and prophetic story of love, betrayal, murder and the origin of the American war in Vietnam. Greene was one of the more influential and illustrious British writers of the 20th century. He enjoyed a very long life, most of the 20th century, and a very long, prolific writing career, during which he gave us The Comedians,Our Man in Havana. An Entertainment, and The Third Man. among many other masterworks, most of which were made into notable films.
Greene himself had first-hand spy experience, having served in the African nation of Sierra Leone during World War II. He'd been recruited to Britain's World War II Secret Service, MI6, upon the recommendation of later notorious spy/counterspy Kim Philby, a friend from Oxford days, who did the British Secret Service a great deal of damage. However, Greene was later to say that, if ever he had to choose between his country and his friends, he hoped he'd choose his friends.
The writer was instinctively anti-American, and left-wing. He traveled widely, as a journalist, and to research his novels, and had great serendipity in his wanderings. Many of them occurred at critical times. The Cuban-set OUR MAN made into a film, Our Man in Havana, starring Alec Guinness, was published in October, 1956. On New Years Day 1959 the revolutionary Castro came down from the Cuban mountains to sweep into power. THE COMEDIANS , made into a film of the same name, THE COMEDIANS, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was set in the last days of "Papa Doc" Duvalier's tyrannical Haiti regime. THE QUIET AMERICAN is set just before the important battle of Dien Bien Phu, which pulled America into the war happening a world away. It's a film well-worth watching, no matter your politics, not least for a chance to feast your eyes on Saigon.
"These Americans are causing a lot of trouble for us." Not the words of a Vietnamese in this film, but of the French detective charged with solving the murder of a young American in the Saigon of 1952. Graham Green's novel, of which this film is an adaptation, was published in 1954. Green, of course, would only have had an inkling of the horrors that would ensue in the following decade, but the adaptation cannot escape the legacy of the commencement of subversive American involvement in the politics of Indochina even before the French had left. This is partly, of course, because we are viewing the events that unfold on the screen with the knowledge of hindsight. Yet, the film itself thankfully spares us any such conscious anachronism.
Michael Caine is good as British journalist Thomas Fowler; Brendan Fraser is great as the young American upstart, Alden Pyle. (Brendan Fraser is a vastly under-rated actor in my book. He usually plays tough gung-ho good guys, which makes his casting in this film - and in `Gods and Monsters' so surprising and yet so good.) The woman over whom they fight, Phuong, is so delicately beautiful and is played by Vietnamese actor Do Thi Hai Yen. The scenes of Saigon are full of atmosphere, and Craig Armstrong's music adds riches to the scenes. The first hour focuses on the love triangle, but once the bomb-scene in the Place Garnier takes place - and it does jolt the viewer out of his complacency - the tension builds. The director talks of the film being a love triangle, a murder-mystery, and a political thriller, all in one.
Phuong is supposed to be symbolic of the country as a whole, being in the grip of an old and fading colonial power and yet also within the sights of the new idealistic power of the United States. Pyle describes Phuong to Fowler as "a daughter of a professor, taxi-dancer, mistress of an older European man ... well that pretty well describes the whole country, doesn't it?" And then adds, "We [the Americans] are here to save Vietnam from all that." The co-writer of the film, Christopher Hampton, argues that Fowler condones the murder of Pyle, because the former is more in love with Vietnam than with Phuong: Fowler fears what Pyle's actions would do to his beloved country.
For this to work Pyle needs to have the sympathy of the audience. I'm not sure this does actually work. Sure, Pyle tells Fowler that, "It's not that easy to remain uninvolved," and Fowler too can be unsympathetic at times - witness his lie to Phuong that his wife back in England had finally agreed to a divorce. But my sympathy for Pyle is skin-deep if at all, and again this is probably due to historical hindsight seeing in Pyle's actions a long road to hell for Vietnam and for Pyle's compatriots back in the States. As Fowler's Vietnamese assistant, Hinh (played by Tzi Ma), says to him face-to-face, "Sooner or later one has to takes sides, if one is to remain human." Hinh is in on the conspiracy to murder Pyle; my sympathy is with the former, rather than the latter. Like Greek's who bear gifts, beware the quiet American!
There is a very well-structured commentary with this film, to which not only the director (Phillip Noyce) and some of the actors contribute (Caine, Fraser, Tzi Ma), but also some of the producers (including Sydney Pollack), the co-writer (Christopher Hampton) and interpreter/adviser Tran An Hua. There are very few direct references to action taking place on the screen. Rather, in his commentary, Noyce provides a concise background history to the movie's events, and many of the other contributors relate their personal lives to Vietnam and the war that followed the events of this film. (Caine, for example, talks about being eighteen years old and fighting in the Korean War.) Noyce also explains the background to the film's delayed release in 2002.
Other extras include a twenty-minute feature `Anatomy of a Scene' from the Sundance Channel, with interviews with the producer, director, screenwriter, composer, DOP, editor, and actors. This shows the trouble taken to achieve authenticity in the double-bomb scene on the Place Garnier. It is interesting that the movie used actual Vietnamese casualties from the later war (people with lost limbs) to portray the victims in this scene. And yet the damage - both architectural and human - caused by the bombs do seem to me out of proportion to the blast that is portrayed on screen.
Finally, there is an interactive Vietnam timeline which provides background historical information, and some reproductions of reviews of the original Graham Greene novel.
I've decided to say very little about this movie, except that it's one of quiet quality - the story, the screenplay, the acting by all and the location work.
Like its title, it does not and indeed doesn't need to shout out about its many fine qualities. The story is universal, 'old school' - in that there is actually one to be told and is portrayed in an intelligent manner by director Philip Noyce. Michael Caine's performance remains one his very best - subtle, vulnerable but still commanding and Brendan Fraser, so often typecasted into comedy and action 'matinee' style blockbusters that we are slightly surprised that he rises to this occasion nicely.
For a film to teach us about human behaviour, history during a contentious and difficult time for many (Vietnam, of course) but not feel the need to ram actual war down our throats is refreshing. It might not be considered a classic, but good it is and should be on a to-see list if a quality intelligent drama and one that doesn't require endless to-ing and fro-ing and getting lost in over-elaborate plot-lines. Fans of Michael Caine should actually own it, as those who follow the excellent Grahame Greene and his cinematic adaptations.
Of all the films I've seen over the years concerning America's involvement in Vietnam, THE QUIET AMERICAN is perhaps the most seductive.
It's 1952, and Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is the aging correspondent for the London Times in Saigon. France is in the process of being tossed out of Indochina, but the former doesn't realize it yet - Dien Bien Phu is still in the future - and its military fights on ineffectually against the communists. In the meantime, Fowler submits the occasional story to the head office while finding comfort in the arms of opium and his Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Do Hai Yen), a former taxi dancer at a local club. Then, one day, THE QUIET AMERICAN Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) shows up. Pyle claims to be with a medical aid mission in country to combat trachoma, a bacterial disease causing blindness. But what is Pyle, really? He seems awfully chummy with the conniving powers over at the U.S. legation. In any case, Alden very soon falls in love with Phuong, attention that neither the jealous Fowler can prevent nor Phuong finds particularly unwelcome.
Not since LITTLE VOICE (1998) has Michael Caine acted so powerfully, and this is perhaps his greatest role ever. An Academy Award nomination is deservedly due. Fraser is perfect as the clean-cut, idealistic and naïve Yank who may be something other than he claims. Yen is positively exquisite as the delicate Phuong. As Fowler puts it, his death would begin if he lost her.
THE QUIET AMERICAN, based on the Graham Greene novel, can be seen as an allegorical story of America's fledgling interest in succoring Vietnam from the Red Menace. After all, the French seem unequal to the task. Pyle perhaps comes to symbolically represent the American innocence that is seduced by Vietnam in the form of Phuong, and the former wishes "to save" the latter from the escalating national chaos. Only the tired and world-weary Fowler knows that this is impossible. He would "save" Phuong himself if he could, but he can't.
THE QUIET AMERICAN is an anti-war, anti-intervention film best viewed these many years after America withdrew from its Southeast Asian debacle and passions have cooled. This is one of the best films of 2002.