10 August 2003 | Buddy-51
Caine scores again
Michael Caine gives yet another outstanding performance in `The Quiet American,' Philip Noyce's 2002 adaptation of the Graham Greene Cold War novel (the first movie version was released in 1958). Set in 1952 Saigon, the film features Caine as Thomas Fowler, a world-weary British journalist who's been sent to Vietnam to cover the attempt by colonial French forces to hold back the communist insurgence from the North. But Fowler has a problem. Despite the fact that he is a reporter, he freely admits that this country exerts a sort of magical hold on him and that, in order to maintain that image, he must will himself to look beyond the ugliness and strife that are tearing the country apart. In fact, reporting is the last thing on Fowler's mind. He is even madly in love with a beautiful young Vietnamese girl who lives with him. When his publishers back in England threaten to call him back, Fowler realizes that he must become more actively engaged in the events around him if he hopes to be allowed to stay.
One day he meets Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), an American eye specialist who falls in love with Fowler's girl. Even though they are drawn together by much that they have in common, Fowler and Pyle soon become rivals for the woman, though by the end, their conflict has broadened to include the issues of war vs. peace, truth vs. deception, and personal feelings vs. political expediency.
`The Quiet American' is typical Greene in that it provides an intense personal drama played against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil in an exotic setting. Both Caine and Fraser bring a quiet intensity to their scenes together. Caine, in particular, is brilliant at conveying the many moods of a man who wants to be left alone to live a simple life with the woman he loves but who knows that circumstances are conspiring to make such a life impossible. He is heartbreaking as he sees that ideal existence suddenly slipping away, with little he can do to stop it from happening. He also begins to see just how difficult it is to remain emotionally detached from the horrors happening around him once the atrocities begin to encroach on his world directly. Fowler also has to decide whether his final action is truly rooted in a humanitarian impulse or the product of wanting to eliminate a pesky rival from the field of competition.
In addition to telling a fairly solid story, `The Quiet American' also provides a glimpse into the history of its region, particularly showing how the Americans ended up usurping the role of the French in that far off, alien country in the late 50's and early 60's. This is reflected in a wonderful coda that chronicles the steps leading up to this slow handoff of power and responsibility.
But for all the film's various virtues, it is Caine's performance that is the real reason to catch `The Quiet American.'