During a time when the United States is invading Iraq for intentions still unclear, it is refreshing to see that studios are still willing to release a few criticisms here and there. The Quiet American looks at Vietnam during the time of French occupation, just a decade before the United States declared war with the communists, with a critical opinion of motives and actions the American government took to arrive at such a declaration. That is only an underlying theme, though. On the surface, The Quiet American is a thriller about a love triangle between a British reporter, an idealistic American and a young, Vietnamese beauty that eventually leads to murder. The many-layered story makes for one of the better movies of the year.
Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser and Do Thi Hai Yen star as Thomas Fowler, Alden Pyle and Phuong respectively, the players caught in a triangle at a time when the country was on the verge of collapse. Caine does an exceptional job as the wise but love-blinded reporter that has tried to remain neutral for so long; there is just something about his voice that commands the screen. Oscar voters agreed - he earned himself a nomination, but lost to Adrien Brody of The Pianist.
Fraser pulls a wild card out of his hat and turns in a serious performance for a change, showing that he is capable of actually acting, compared to goofing around on the sets of such unlikable films as The Mummy Returns and Monkeybone (granted he has some good goofy movies as well). We last saw a performance like this out of him in Gods and Monsters, in which he costarred with Ian McKellen. Fraser does a good job here, though there still is just something about his voice that is a little offsetting. Nevertheless, I enjoy when comedic actors take a dark turn, and I enjoyed Fraser here.
Do Thi Hai Yen also is good as the quiet woman torn between the two men. Unfortunately, her character isn't developed as well as the men's, and it is never clear what she is actually thinking. Is she in love with either of these men, or is she just looking for a better life? To what lengths is she willing to go to get out of Vietnam? It is never clear. Still, with what she is given, her beauty and innocence gives the screen a glow.
As for the movie itself, I enjoyed it quiet a lot, although was surprised by the "thriller" aspects of the plot. I was expecting a drama about Vietnam, but instead was given a love triangle story that eventually leads to murder. Furthermore, there is a mystery surrounding the involvement of a Vietnamese General in several slaughters. The early horrors of Vietnam are still present, but they serve as more of a backdrop than anything else.
The Quiet American is not without flaws, but most of them are minor are not noteworthy. I do not think that the movie should have started out at the end, after the murder has taken place. It is clear that the other man is involved in some way, and not knowing how the movie was going to end would have made things more suspenseful. Also, the director focuses on a few clues that really have no importance (such as the dog footprint in the ground). What's the point?
Though it is not Best Picture quality, The Quiet American is a well done drama thriller that can easily be considered one of the better films of 2002. It has great acting and a great storyline, and is definitely worth watching.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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