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The Quiet American (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Feature commentary with Philip Noyce, Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser; Anatomy of a scene; Original featurette; Vietnam study guide; Original book reviews.

AT A time when all eyes are focused on America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is perhaps timely that Phillip Noyce should release his remake of The Quiet American, a love triangle set against the backdrop of US involvement in Vietnam and based upon the book by Graham Greene.

Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser reprise roles made famous by Michael Redgrave and Audie Murphy for this classy potboiler, which refrains from taking an overly showy approach to its subject matter in favour of making the viewer think.

Set in Saigon during the fall of 1952, The Quiet American finds Caine’s disillusioned London Times correspondent, Thomas Fowler, leading a forgotten existence with his beautiful Vietnamese mistress, Phuong (Hai Yen), until he meets Fraser’s idealistic young American, Alden Pyle.

For while Pyle initially appears to be a harmless charmer, albeit hopelessly besotted with Phuong, his involvement with warlord General The, who has broken allegiance with the French to fight both them and the Communists, eventually forces Fowler to take sides, leading to betrayal, deception and murder.

The murder in question is used as the starting point for Noyce’s movie and the subsequent tale unfolds in flashback, taking in Fowler’s metamorphosis from cynical observer to pro-active correspondent, forced to resort to desperate measures in a bid to keep hold of his beloved Phuong.

But while the love triangle forms the central thrust of the story, as it did in Joseph L Mankiewicz’s acclaimed 1958 original, Noyce refuses to overlook the events surrounding them, casting a critical eye over the CIA’s growing involvement in Vietnam, without ever becoming too preachy or accusatory.

Even during the movie’s pivotal moment - the triggering of a bomb in downtown Saigon, which may or may not have been orchestrated by the Americans - Noyce refuses to resort to cheap tactics, delivering a sequence of devastating brutality which pushes all of the right emotional buttons, without making you feel manipulated.

The moral and political complexities which abound in Greene’s intricate novel are also present and correct, and are presented in an intelligent way, usually in the form of the verbal sparring which takes place between Caine and Fraser.

It is little wonder, therefore, that both actors rise to the material, with Caine reverting back to the type of Oscar-winning form displayed in The Cider House Rules, and Fraser presenting a credible anti-hero. Both men possess secrets, both men are willing to lie to get what they want, and both succeed in toying with the viewers’ perceptions of them, as their flaws become cruelly exposed.

Christopher Doyle’s superb cinematography also serves to heighten the stifling humidity of a pre-war Vietnam, while several of the set pieces offer timely respites from the talking.

This is hugely impressive stuff which should not only enhance the reputations of all involved, but could also serve as a cautionary tale in respect to the world as we know it today.

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