Retro Review: Quiet American

It is no wonder that this is probably the most overlooked and little seen movie of 2002.

The biggest shame is that it probably should have been mentioned during the hush-hush whispering that has invigorated films like “The Hours” and “Far From Heaven”.

The latter two films will probably go on to win Oscars and go down in history but “Quiet American” will probably just remain, well pardon the pun, quiet.

“The Quiet American” is based on the infamous Graham Greene novel of the same name. The setting is pre-war Vietnam. Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is a
correspondent for the London Times and deeply enjoys his utopian existence. He sips his tea everyday at the same place and is love with a beautiful 20-something student named Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen).

Fowler’s life is perfect life unravels when he introduces American Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) to his lovely Phuong. Fowler’s life becomes a lot more complicated when Pyle confesses his love for Phuong and that Pyle may be Fowler’s only link to the biggest story
of his career.

“The Quiet American” is a quaint and nicely woven film. Director Phillip Noyce
once more shows his passion behind the camera as he opens his film with a sort
of James Bond style inter-woven with Vietnamese music. It’s a nice beginning to
a mystery film. The theme sets a wonderful tone and draws the audience right in.

The only problem I had with this film was after the opening where we witness
Brendan Fraser’s autopsy. Then we have to watch the film wondering what happened
to him. It bugged me when it could have been more interesting if the film opened
with the morgue and with the mystery with who was lying on the slab. Was it
Caine or Fraser or someone else?

I would have liked that because the scene bugged me for the rest of the film. I know that the novel begins the way the film does but just thought it would have been interesting.

My hat does go off to wonderful Phillip Noyce, who also directed last year’s Rabbit Proof Fence. Noyce is becoming a great to director to watch for.

The richness and style that he conveys in his latest films have been so awe inspiring. His films don’t go for the heart or the gut but tell the story and allow the audience to connect how they see fit.

It seems that Hollywood only seems to be able to make 2 kinds of movies, giant special effects blockbusters and teary, mopey and overtly depressing melodramas. When Hollywood strays from the formula with directors like Scorcese, Burton, Hanson and Mendes, we seem to be awakened to something other than the typical. I like seeing something that isn’t typical, entertaining and bold. Noyce definitely is on his way to being
mentioned in the same circle as the fore-mentioned directors.

Brendan Fraser’s performance as Pyle is electric as we aren’t sure what to make of him throughout. Fraser continues to show he is more than just a “mummy”
hunter. We saw some of his acting range in the vastly underrated film “School
Ties”. He continued with strong performances in the romantic film “Still
Breathing” and his best performance to date in “Gods and Monsters”. I would be interested to see what Fraser could do in a part with some meat and balls. Hopefully that is coming soon.

The only thing being mentioned about this film in Hollywood circles is the
performance by Michael Caine. It is a shame that it is all that’s being
mentioned.

Putting that aside, Caine’s performance as the English man facing the loss of his utopia is heart-wrenching and quite a profound experience to witness. From the scenes where he breaks down in the lavatory to the scenes where he looks like a lost puppy outside a compound window, Caine is brilliant.
I have always screamed about that there is a lot of meaning in the quiet moments of film, Caine monopolizes all these in this film and its captivating.

It is a shame that I didn’t see “Quiet American” before I did my Top 10 for 2002
because it would have replaced “Sum of All Fears” as my #8 film of that year.

(4.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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