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The Quiet American

Starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser and Do Thi Hai Yen
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan
Adapted from the novel by Graham Greene
Directed by Phillip Noyce

IN SHORT: for the art house. [Rated R for images of violence and some language. 100 minutes]

It is 1952 in the country known to Westerners as Indo-China and to natives as Viet Nam. The French have maintained Indo-China as a colony but are involved in a war of Independence with a native army, the Viet Minh. Saigon, where most of The Quiet American is set is, at this time, a truly exotic mixture of French and "oriental" cultures (in addition to the native Vietnamese, there are elements of Japanese and Chinese). It is a place where any Westerner could lose himself in the intoxicating beauty of both culture and sex. Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine, click for StarTalk) has been resident of Saigon for a number of years, reporting on the war for The Times of London. Fowler has a wife back in London but prefers the company of his native born mistress, Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), a woman easily half his age whose beauty could be legend.

Fowler is clearly at the end of his run. He luxuriates in the exotic atmosphere and files far too few stories to keep his editors happy. The French are losing their war with Viet Minh revolutionaries and, to save his own skin, Fowler must head north to do some war reporting. Before that happens he is befriended by Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), a wet behind the ears, eager young American who is in country to set up medical aide stations. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it is clear to any viewer that Pyle is not who he says he is, but that's not the main story here.

The Quiet American is a classic two men both in love with the same exotic woman story; in this case the men are of different age demos -- Caine, the first in the sack, is much older than the quieter, enthusiastic and all too polite Fraser. For Fraser, it is a case of love at first sight and, knowing there are moral protocols in this alien culture, goes first to Caine to ask permission to pursue Phuong. It's not as silly as it sounds. Caine's wife, back in London, has "religious convictions" that mean she will never grant Caine freedom. For Phuong, marriage to the American means a ticket out of war torn Indo-China. The alternative, a life as a "taxi dancer" which appears to be just one or two steps up from flat out prostitution.

What is supposed to be the linking structure -- the bond of friendship between the two men, especially as they find themselves relying upon each other when stranded in the war torn North -- is utterly lacking. The adaptation, at least in the first half of the film, stutters badly trying to insert talk of the lady into conversations about the work the two men are assigned to do in country. That friendship is needed to kick up the stakes for the competition for the attentions of Phuong, but it all fails to ignite. The script is intelligent, yes. There is no chemistry at work anywhere on the screen.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Quiet American, he would have paid . . .


The Quiet American isn't a bad film, it's just one that could easily wait for your pay per view dollar.

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