"The Quiet American"
Director: Phillip Noyce
Diana Takata

Better known for action films such as Patriot Games and The Saint, director Phillip Noyce has turned from Hollywood blockbusters and begun making independently-minded films about deeply human subjects. Noyce is in fact returning to his earlier roots as a filmmaker in Australia, and the critically acclaimed Rabbit Proof Fence and The Quiet American (the later Oscar nomiated), are the result.

The Quiet American takes on tricky subject matter as the film tackles the ambitions of the United States in Vietnam after the French decided to stop fighting and instead let the Americans give it a try. Caine plays a reporter named Fowler who sees the unfolding American involvement in a particularly personal way, as his mistress (played by Do Thi Hai Yen) is seduced by the young American "relief worker" named Pyle (who later is revealed in a more sinister light), played by Brendan Fraser. In the end, Fowler's commitment to Viet Nam the country, and to his mistress, is real -- Caine's character comes to realize that love and lasting involvement are the key to his happiness and fulfilment in a world increasingly devoid of such qualities. To move from political ambivalence and into a moral universe defined by choice is, according to Fowler's loyal assistant and Pyle's assassin, "what makes us human."

Caine's performance has won him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and he will likely win. No one can exude an inner world in turmoil quite like Michael Caine, whose eyes betray an array of emotions by the most simple of glances. I heard him say that his secret was "not to blink" during a dramatic moment, but this seems too simple a technique for the complexity of the result. Caine's face is a veritible palette of understated subtlety, and he remains an actor very much in command of his craft.

Fraser as the ostensible American Savior exudes at first a kind of Clark Kent innocense that grows uneasily into a more sinister reality as the story unfolds. Do Thi Hai Yen, playing the young mistress, is certainly beautiful, although a little too flat in her presentation. The screenplay (by Robert Schenkkan and Christopher Hampton), deftly translates Graham Greene's novel into a well-structured story that has a compelling dramatic arc and sense of growing tension. The film seems almost a throwback in terms of pacing and style, and happily so, as it reminds us of the power of a narrative that unfolds like an onion, succumbing neither to predictability nor contrived twists thrown in for their own sake. The recipe is tried and true and classic -- and it works. The story has a single secret, and that is enough.

We can only hope Phillip Noyce continues on his current path. He is certainly treating us to films that give us something to ponder and talk about, rather than forget about immediately after viewing. In this career move he has in fact demonstrated the main theme of The Quiet American, that choice and commitment are in fact as important as money and power -- that career satisfaction for Noyce no longer exits in simply making the same popcorn movie over and over again.

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Copyright Web del Sol, 2003

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