More noise than signal

The Quiet American

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

The Quiet American, an adaption of the Graham Greene novel, quickly follows Rabbit-Proof Fence into the cinemas as the latest effort from director Phillip Noyce. Set against the colourful French-Indochina War in Vietnam in the ’50s, with the main colour being blood red. This proved to be a mere warm-up for the later America-Vietman war, which improved on the orignal in many respects, notably bodycount.

Michael Caine stars as a reporter for the London Times, who is threatened with the unwelcome prospect of being returned to London, which would unfortunately mean separation from his beautiful young Vietnamese lover, played by Do Thi Hai Yen. Entering on this scene is Brendan Fraser as the titular quiet american, attached to the Medical Relief fund. From thereon in we have the classic boy meets girl meets other boy love triangle, set against a background of war and explosions. Boiled down to these basic elements, the film would seem to follow the cliched example of the hundreds of films before it, which never seems to be the case as it is watched.

This is not a war film, the conflict is at most a supporting character introduced to give Caine and Fraser time to converse alone, against aforementioned background of war and explosions. A foray into the battlezone provides a story worthy enough for Caine to convince his superiors to delay his recall, and he begins the search for a new one. This turns out to be provided by the newly formed and suspiciously well-backed army of General The. A little digging shows up some American involvement, as the film takes a tone faintly reminiscent of Caines’ Harry Palmer roles in The Ipcress File, etc. At times the balance of love story and political intrigue seems a little off-kilter, even though both strands are interweaved, almost as if one area of the film is put on hold while we have a little more exposition of the political situation, which is then abandoned in favour of a little emotional development. This may feel stilted to some people, but is unlikely to spoil any enjoyment too much.

There’s a lot to appreciate in this film. The acting performances are exemplary, with Brendan Fraser showing a depth to his character which is rarely shown (or even present) in his recent films. Noyce clearly likes the look of Michael Caine, as the film seems to feature an inordinate amount of close-up shots on him. This is not a complaint – Caine has a wonderfully expressive face and a great degree of subtlety to his performance.

While this is not a special effects laden film, the shelling and bombing is adequately done, and the carnage after a terrorist bombing incident is particularly horrific, proving to be the film’s most powerful moment. As noted previously, occasionally it can seem that this film cannot decide whether to be a love story or political thriller, which could spoil your enjoyment should you watch this expecting one or the other. Those with an open mind may be pleasantly surprised by this film.