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The Quiet American

TIFF [2002]Go to Festival index

Capsule Review Only

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The second of Phillip Noyce's two great films is an adaptation of the classic Graham Greene novel, "The Quiet American," Starring Sir Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. Not being familiar with the novel, I can't say how faithful an adaptation it is; the impression I got is that it's quite faithful. Does it matter? It's an incredible film, his performance in this film far surpasses his Oscar winning turn in "The Cider House Rules".

For those, like me, who weren't quite in the know regarding the story, here it is: Caine plays Thomas Fowler, an aging British journalist in Vietnam during the French war there who's on the verge of being recalled because of his lack of production. But he's taken a beautiful young lover, Phuong (Hai Yen Do) and realizes he has to get up and do some work if he wants to stay with her. At a cafe, he meets Alden Pyle (Fraser), a wide-eyed idealist who is helping to bring medical aid to the war-ravaged country. When Pyle meets Phuong, a delicate love triangle forms, and as Fowler comes closer to his big story, he finds that Pyle isn't quite as naive as he appears.

While Noyce's other entry in the fest, "Rabbit-Proof Fence", tells its story against the expansive and airy backdrop of the Austrailian desert, "The Quiet American" is dense and claustrophobic, steamy and passionate. At the Q&A, Caine stated that he really wanted to disappear into Fowler -- not an easy task for a cinema icon -- but I must admit that he succeeded: by the end I pretty much forgot that that was Michael Caine. Fraser, too, holds his own in what's bound to be a performance overshadowed by the elder statesman.

It's a testament to Noyce's precision and passion that both "Rabbit-Proof Fence" and "The Quiet American" are so engaging and involving. While he was never on my list of absolute favourites (I am definitely not a fan of "The Bone Collector") he has shown that given material in which he has a more personal investment, he can produce top-rate work. Hopefully there are more of these types of films in his future.

- Lidia F

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