The Quiet American has had a somewhat chequered history. Based on Graham Greene’s classic novel, it sat gathering dust on the shelves of Miramax for over a year due to its perceived anti-Americanism. In fact, it was only due to the continued lobbying of Michael Caine that it gained a limited release in America at all.
It was the politics of the film that scared Miramax – in this post 9/11 landscape, anything that is deemed even slightly critical of US foreign policy is branded “unpatriotic”. The Quiet American certainly casts a disapproving eye over US involvement in 1950′s Vietnam, but to dismiss it as nothing other than a left wing polemic would be missing the point dreadfully.
Caine, in a veritable acting masterclass, plays Thomas Fowler, a ageing journalist desperate to keep his posting in Vietnam not least due to the presence of his much younger Vietnamese girlfriend, Phuong. He befriends a young American aid worker, Alden Pyle and introduces him to Phuong. The inevitable love triangle ensues and Fowler and Pyle become caught up in a duplicitous game of politics and dirty tricks in which all is not what it appears.
It’s easy to see why Caine lobbied Miramax to release this film. He utterly dominates this role and at the very least should be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Caine has taken some stick over the years (not least for his dreadful choice of parts) but watching him at work as Fowler is to watch an acting legend. He perfectly captures the journalist’s jaded, resigned nature and even the relationship with Phuong, which few actors of Caine’s age could pull off, is believable.
Brendan Fraser too is impressive in a difficult role. He’s proved before, in Gods And Monsters, that he’s a talented actor but seems happy in such lightweight fare as ‘The Mummy’. If he stays in films of this quality his reputation can only improve. Do Thi Hai Yen also does a good job with a rather poorly sketched character.
It’s not just the acting that makes this rewarding viewing however. Philip Noyce does an excellent, unshowy job although he can hardly fail with source material like Greene. Noyce has had his fair share of turkeys in the past (such as Sliver and The Saint) but he can’t be faulted here. The cinematography is also quite beautiful, showing Vietnam in all its glory. In parts you can also feel the stultifying humidity of the country, such is the quality of the photography.
So full marks to Michael Caine, not just for a stunning performance, but for triumphing over the forces of censorship and achieving a release for this film. In these rather frightening times it’s good to find quiet, thoughtful movies like this that question and criticise. If the actions of Miramax are anything to go by though, get set for a new wave of Top Gun style military recruitment films.