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The Quiet American
cast: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen, and Rade Serbedzija

director: Philip Noyce

100 minutes (15) 2002
Buena Vista rental [released 19 May]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Postcolonial Vietnam - a world of beauty, opulence, and a messy civil war that the urban population manage to politely ignore. Thomas Fowler, correspondent for a London newspaper, leads a lazy, contented life with his Vietnamese mistress. But the paper is concerned that there's not enough happening in Vietnam to justify a correspondent - and with a wife at home who refuses him a divorce, the last thing Fowler wants is to be sent 'home'. A glimmer of hope appears in the form of Alden Pyle, idealistic American medic - and secret agent, hoping to bring the corrupt but anticommunist government under US influence. The repercussions of his actions may save Fowler's career - but when Pyle begins a hopelessly romantic crusade to redeem Fowler's mistress from what he sees as prostitution, the price may be too high...
   Adapted from a Graham Greene novel highly critical of American imperialism, this film was very nearly buried by a studio worried about its image in a year of flag-waving patriotism. To a British audience, more removed from, and therefore more realistic about, their own colonial mistakes, the politics are less controversial, but the fine performances and the very human story at the heart of the film are still enthralling.
   Michael Caine makes a splendid Fowler; decayed, sentimental, and vulnerable, all too aware of the horrors his adopted country is capable of, but choosing to lose himself in its beauty for as long as he can. Brendan Fraser's Pyle is both his complete opposite, and eerily reminiscent of him; both are hopeless romantics, but Pyle applies his idealism to politics rather than individual relationships, and the results are genuinely tragic. The uncertain bond, part friendship and part rivalry, that develops between them binds together a sprawling narrative of war, espionage and personal betrayal that moves effortlessly from battlefield to bedroom.
   This is old-fashioned Oscar nominee filmmaking; epic in scope, visually beautiful, finely acted, both political and very personal. That it was virtually ignored by the Academy says a lot about US politics in itself. Just don't let that put you off; this is a real treat.
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