Stars: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen
Director: Philip Noyce
Continuing my search for sweeping, romantic, political thrillers in the vein of Beyond Rangoon and The Year of Living Dangerously, (see January, 2010 review) I've hit upon The Quiet American--from the Graham Greene novel ( a remake of the 1958 film). Michael Caine (in a role that garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor) is Thomas Fowler--a foreign correspondent for the London Times--residing in Saigon in 1952 during The French-Indochina war. (Remember the French...the ones America COULD have learned from in Vietnam, but didn't?)
The middle-aged Fowler, whose wife is back home, lives with an exotic young mistress named Phuong ( Do Thi Hai Yen). When American economic aid worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) arrives upon the scene, he is immediately smitten by Phuong, and doesn't hide it from Fowler, whom he has befriended. Ah, yes...a guy moving in on another man's girl. Without digressing too much: Guys are notorious for such behavior, and they have no shame or qualms about horning in on a friend's territory. (Yes, I've done it--and have had it done to me.) When a dude goes "GA- GA" for some woman, (not LADY Ga Ga) all bets are off. He becomes a cross-eyed, tongue lolling out of his head mutt, disregarding all previous loyalties or considerations.
Fowler (and this is where Caine shines) reacts primarily to Pyle's intrusion with sarcasm rather than belligerence--it fits in with his detachment from the political turmoil that rages around them--with the Communists, the French, and now the CIA beginning its meddling. Pyle has youth and bachelorhood on his side, and he lures Phuong away. But the unassuming Pyle isn't what he's so conscientiously made himself out to be, and that spells danger for him when the truth is revealed following a deadly bombing in Saigon.
There are catalysts in all of our lives--a pivotal point that everything hinges upon, and we are forced to make a momentous decision. We see the transformation in Fowler when he says: "Sooner or later one has to take sides if one is to remain human."
The Quiet American--a love triangle, a murder mystery, and a war epic rolled into one--excels in many ways. From the bewitching sound track by Craig Armstrong, to deftly capturing the feel of time and place. The Quiet American will draw you into another world--and that's what the best movies do. And I wasn't surprised to see the brilliant Sydney Pollack's stamp (as Executive Producer) on this one. I don't go looking for films that Pollack has had a hand in...they always seem to find me.
RETRO GRADE: A