Literate, delicate and allegorical in ways that Stephen Daldry’s The Hours is ham-fisted, Phillip Noyce’s The Quiet American (adapted from Graham Greene’s 1955 novel) is a stirring account of colonialism in matters of the heart. While the French are fighting the Viet Minh, a more intimate battle takes place between British journalist Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) and a mysterious young American, Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), for Fowler’s girlfriend Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). It’s understandable why Miramax shelved this quiet little gem shortly following 9/11. Pyle’s sketchy politics and mission to steal Fowler’s girlfriend brings to mind the brashness of a certain American president. If Pyle is the colonialist here then Fowler is the humanitarian. Noyce remarkably foreshadows the intensity of Fowler and Pyle’s personal battle via a series of head-on medium shots inside a Vietnam dance club. The strange kindness with which Pyle claims his right to Phuong is every bit as audacious as Fowler’s strange passivity. “You can be forgiven for forgetting that the war is happening,” Caine’s Fowler says during the film’s ravishing opening shot, extolling the beauty of Vietnam’s nightlife. It’s not easy to remain uninvolved, though, and Fowler uses his burgeoning distrust for Pyle as a fascinating call to arms. Save for Noyce’s decision to overlap images of Phuong’s face with scenic shots of Indochina’s destruction, the film’s allegorical struggle is delicately handled. Fowler and Pyle’s battle of wills is a difficult one to watch. Despite Pyle’s idealist threat, Fowler chooses to trust him (“We can disagree and remain friends,” says the naïve American). If Craig Armstrong’s busy score goes heavy on the native chants, Christopher Doyle makes it all go down smoothly with his predictably sexy camerawork. Key here is Caine’s stoic performance, which may just be the best of his career. With every glance and twitch he throws Fraser’s way, Caine at once evokes a man haunted by war and burning with the fire of revenge.
- Phillip Noyce
- Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan
- Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija, Tzi Ma, Robert Stanton, Holmes Osborne, Pham Thi Mail Hoa, Quang Hai, Ferdinand Hoang, Nguyen Thi Hieu
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: