The Quiet American

It may be a hard thing to remember, but Brendan Fraser (The Mummy Returns, Bedazzled) can actually act. He seems to enjoy trolling around in roles that portray him as goofy and dumb, and lately as an action hero, but he is most artistically successful in a movie like Gods and Monsters and here in The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene's novel that accused the United States of playing a crucial role in instigating the Vietnam War. Pairing him with veteran actor Michael Caine (Austin Powers in Goldmember, Last Orders) is even better. However, it is more about the reporter, Thomas Fowler (Caine), and his relationship with Vietnam and the people of the country rather than the War, which does play a large part.

Fowler is happy in Vietnam, writing stories every once in a while and living with the beautiful Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen, The Vertical Ray of the Sun). He cannot marry Phuong since his wife in England will not grant him a divorce. Fowler is content to stay there and live in sin. He stoically observes the events occurring around him, constantly reinforcing to his assistant Hinh (Tzi Ma, Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, Rush Hour) that as a reporter, it is his duty to remain independent and not to take sides. He meets Alden Pyle (Fraser), who claims to be an American there to help with medical supplies. Pyle asks many questions, and is always appearing in places he should not be. He also has eyes for Phuong, and believes that he can provide for her better than Fowler can.

A horrific massacre awakens Fowler from his complacency. He believes that this is something both the French and Communists would not do, and that a third party is emerging. At the same time, he learns that Pyle is much more than he claims to be, and his relationship with Phuong begins to strain. Christopher Hampton (The Secret Agent, Mary Reilly) and Robert Schenkkan (Crazy Horse) adapted the movie, and ably blend all these elements together to show how events are changing both the country and the man. Director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Bone Collector) uses a tremendous amount of restraint in how he decides to portray everything.

Everything relies on Caine, who gives another masterful performance. Fowler is the type of person who is loath to express himself emotionally. He is the repressed British man who enjoys the control he has over the small world around him. With this control crumbling, he feels lost. Caine is able to express an incredible amount of emotion with a minimal use of acting, and it's easy to relate to his frustration. With The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence, Noyce is taking a step back from large Hollywood pictures and focusing on deeper, character and/or story-driven movies. It's a nice move, and the movies sure are more worthwhile.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R for images of violence and some language.

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