The Quiet American


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Rating: R

Michael Caine as Thomas Fowler
Brendan Fraser as Alden Pyle
Do Thi Hai Yen as Phuong
Rade Serbedzija as Inspector Vigot
Tzi Ma as Hinh
Robert Stanton as Joe Tunney
Holmes Osborne as Bill Granger
Quang Hai as General The
Ferdinand Hoang as Mr. Muoi
Pham Thi Mai Hoa as Phuong’s Sister
Mathias Mlekuz as Captain Sorel

Special Features:
Commentary by director Phillip Noyce, actors Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Tzi Ma, producers Sydney Pollack, Staffan Ahrenberg, William Hoberg, co-writer Christopher Hampton, and interpreter/advisor to the director, Tran An Hua

“Anatomy of a Scene” Sundance Channel Show

Original featurette

Vietnam timeline

DVD-ROM Enhanced Vietnam Study Guide

Original book reviews

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Running Time: 101 Minutes

“The Quiet American” is based on the novel by Graham Greene.

Thomas Fowler is a British reporter living in Vietnam in the early 1950’s. When his newspaper calls him home, he is unwilling to leave. He loves the country and wants to remain there with his young Vietnamese mistress Phuong. Desperate to marry the young beauty, he cannot because his wife will not grant him a divorce.

Fowler and Phuong’s lives change one day when a young American by the name of Alden Pyle arrives. Idealistic and zealous, Pyle says he is in Vietnam on a medical mission. However, he soon sets his eye on Phuong and falls in love with her. He tries to win her away from Fowler. But as Folwer investigates Pyle further, he discovers that he is not necessarily who he appears to be.

“The Quiet American” is rated R for images of violence and some language.

The Movie:
The acting in “The Quiet American” is first rate. Michael Caine is wonderful as the burned out British reporter who clings desperately to his love for Phuong. He’s not necessarily a moral or likable character, but you can’t help but find yourself drawn to him. Caine does a good job portraying Fowler’s simultaneous friendship and hatred for Pyle and making it believable. Caine was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in this film.

Brendan Fraser gets away from his goofy characters and action hero roles and picks up the more serious role of Alden Pyle. It’s a more deep character with hidden aspects that are only hinted at until the end of the movie. Fraser is good at playing the naïve American as well as the darker role we see later. Like Caine, you really believe his character.

“The Quiet American” hits you over the head with the metaphor it is putting forth, but I didn’t mind. I kind of liked the fact that they pointed out the symbolism they were going for. Phuong represents Vietnam, the mistress of old Europe and the country that American is trying naïvely to save and transform. Through a lack of understanding of culture, both men/countries end up hurting and leaving her in the same situation she was in before. It’s an interesting way to look at the Vietnam conflict and the events leading up to it.

The main problem I had with this film is that I had the entire plot figured out from the very beginning. The movie opens showing the ending scene, thus showing almost all of its cards even before the movie begins. Within the first 10 minutes you see Pyle dead and you know that there was a love triangle between him, Phuong, and Fowler. For the next hour and a half the only question remaining was how Fowler was involved in Pyle’s death. It ruined the movie.

Phuong’s character is also not well developed. She mainly sits there and looks pretty. You never get a sense of why these two men would be wildly in love with this particular woman when there are dozens of others just like her all around. What makes her worth killing for? That was never answered. And the fact that the movie tried to make you root for Caine leaving his wife to be with Phuong was a little off to me.

“The Quiet American” was entertaining enough, but it never quite realized its potential. It remained mildly entertaining when it could have been a lot more.

The Extras:
There are only a handful of extras on this DVD, but they are all of high quality:

“Anatomy of a Scene” Sundance Channel Show – This is probably the best of the extras from the DVD. This Sundance Channel special shows how a key scene from the movie is made. The scene shown in this video was the car bomb scene. It goes step by step through the process of writing the scene, casting the characters, shooting on location, sound design, and more. It then wraps things up by showing the final product. All of this is done with interviews of the cast and crew. It’s not only interesting for filmmakers, but the casual viewer as well. I was amazed how they were able to shoot in a major intersection in Vietnam. You also get a close up look at the extras and how they not only acted in the movie, they lived through the actual event. This is truly a first rate feature and well worth watching.

Feature Commentary – Director Phillip Noyce provides one of the most in-depth, interesting commentaries I’ve heard in a while. He gets heavy into how the movie was made, his personal interests in it, the themes behind it, the history of Vietnam, and more. What he has to say adds great depth to the movie. Backing him up are many of the cast and crew including Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and producer Sydney Pollack (among others). Caine discusses the themes of the film, the possibly anti-American views of the story, and his experiences with the American military. He’s got quite a lot of interesting things to say. Fraser, on the other hand, is so soft-spoken and monotone that you can barely hear him. I had to crank up the surround sound just the be able to decipher what he was saying. Fortunately, he’s not on it very long and the commentators switch so frequently that things are kept hopping.

Original Featurette – This is a short 5-minute video talking about the story and how the movie was filmed. It is also one of the few extras that highlight actress Do Thi Hai Yen (who is glaringly absent from the bonus features). This featurette offers up a few behind the scenes clips that are of interest.

Vietnam timeline – Though rather low tech, this text feature is interesting for those unfamiliar with the history of Vietnam. It’s well worth taking the time to browse through and it all becomes even more poignant in light of current events.

Original book reviews – One of the more peculiar additions to the DVD are original book reviews of the Graham Greene novel. The three reviews offer starkly contrasting views of the novel and they are particularly interesting to read since they are around 50 years old.

The Bottom Line:
I’d say The Quiet American is a DVD worth checking out. Even if you’re not impressed with the film, the bonus features are of interest.