Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

It’s time for to tell you another one of those stories I tell that have next to nothing to do with the movie I’m about to talk about. So I’m home for some spring break or something visiting the mom and she’s watching ‘George of the Jungle’. Whatever, it is a bit peculiar that this woman with a wall full of advanced degrees and literary publications would sit around watching this particular movie on HBO or whatever, but I do have a thing for the movie ‘Demolition Man’ so whattayagonna do? Later that day damn if she isn’t watching ‘George of the Jungle’ AGAIN! Even my son, who was two at the time, waddled out on that movie so I’m curios as to what my mother’s fascination with ‘George of the Jungle’ was. When I ask my mom why she is watching ‘George of the Jungle’ for the THIRD time, she simply informs me that that the boy in that movie has such a nice body. Sorry I asked, and thanks Brendan Fraser, and others for that matter, for yet another unwanted example of my mother informing me that she was a sexual being. ‘The Quiet American’ I could see her watching over and over, but not ‘George of the Jungle’.

In his Academy Award nominated role from 2002 Michael Caine is British reporter Thomas Fowler working in Saigon Vietnam, a few years before the Americans committed themselves overtly to the Police Action but smack dab in the middle of the time the French were getting their asses kicked over there. The film opens with Fowler identifying the body of Alden Pyle (Fraser), an eye doctor on a missionary mission from Boston, a man Fowler would describe as a ‘Quiet American’, unlike most of us Yanks. Who killed Pyle and why is a mystery, but that’s the end of the story for it begins with Fowler and his time in the country who has met and fallen in love with a beautiful Vietnamese woman named Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), and though he has a strong desire to take her with him back to London, his wife and strict catholic upbringing will make that very difficult. Fowler will soon meet the extremely polite American Alden Pyle, who in turn will meet Phuong and in an instant Pyle too is smitten with the woman to distraction. Though Phuong is in love with the ancient Fowler she isn’t so starry eyed and smitten not to realize that there is no future with the man and does weigh her options.

Amidst the backdrop of this complicated love triangle is the increasing political unrest in Vietnam with Fowler attempting to uncover the stories behind the men attempting to control the war torn country, partly because he is a reporter and it’s his job, but mainly because it keeps him in Vietnam and close to his paramour. However after Pyle saves Fowler’s life in an attempt to silence the nosy reporter, saving his life in a manner that seems a bit too spectacular for your average missionary, the reporter begins to have his doubts about Pyle and his real reasons to be in the country, leading the man to make some rather shocking discoveries and subsequently some surprising decisions based on those discoveries which will have long lasting effects on the lives of everybody involved.

I’m sorry that I waited six years after it was initially released to view Phillip Noyce’s outstanding adaptation of the Graham Greene novel that has the look, feel and tone of one those gripping and tense black and white foreign intrigue films that were made fifty years prior. The true joy of ‘The Quiet American’, a film that I could virtually find no flaw with, is again being blessed to witness yet another grand performance from Michael Caine, who in the third act of his life just keeps delivering solid performance after solid performance. We’re almost ready to erase ‘On Deadly Ground’ and 'Jaws IV' from his record because he’s been so uniformly excellent this past decade, but we’re not going to because we don’t want the old dude to get full with all this praise and get the big head.

Not to be outdone by the senior thespian Brendan Fraser who also does fine work as the idealistic, somewhat duplicitous Alden Pyle, playing a character who could be perceived as a villain, and certainly enacts some villainous acts throughout the films relatively brief running time, but he does play his character with a certain level of authentic humanity who in his heart of hearts is doing what he believes is best for his country. When necessary Fraser has proven on numerous occasions that he can bring heavy duty performances that more than belie his ‘Dudley Do-Right’ and ‘The Mummy’ persona, roles which may keep his pocket fat, but don’t utilize his talents as an actor.

‘The Quiet American’ is very good film that tells a very tight, crisp tale amidst a fascinating time in world history and makes the most of this setting. Filled with quality performance, which also includes great work by Tzi Ma and Do Thi Hai Yen which we haven’t even touched on, it is most notable as yet another feather in the cap for the great Michael Caine who rarely disappoints.

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