The Quiet American (2001)

Director: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Hai Yen
Screenwriter: Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan
Running Time: 114 mins
UK Certificate: 15
MPAA Rating: R
Rating: not rated

Surface appearances are deceptive, and nowhere is this more true than in Phillip Noyce's evocative adaptation of Graham Greene's The Quiet American. From the opening moments, when it slowly becomes apparent that beautiful fireworks etched against the sky are, in fact, the sounds and sights of an encroaching war, Noyce sets his scene in a world where nothing is as it seems.

This adaptation (scripted by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schekkan) of Greene's classic tale of desire and deception, set during the French war in Indochina in the early fifties, matches Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in a battle of moral, political and even existential dimensions. Caine plays Thomas Fowler, a rather lazy British news correspondent who has settled into a sensual lifestyle in Saigon with Phuong (Hai Yen Do), his stunning young Vietnamese lover. Enjoying colonial luxuries and priding himself on his non-involvement in a war that is on his doorstep, Fowler rarely files any stories and is on the verge of being called back to London by his newspaper. This changes when Alden Pyle (Fraser), an idealistic aid worker whom Fowler describes, approvingly, as a "quiet" American, arrives in the city. Ostensibly, Pyle is in Vietnam as a doctor, but it soon becomes clear that both he and the increasingly visible American mission have another agenda. Unprepared for what he will uncover, Fowler sets off to find a story that will extend his stay in the country.

Few films deal with this particular moment in history, or with the growing American involvement in the region that was soon to explode into the full-fledged conflict that enveloped Vietnam. Noyce tells a complex love story of competing desires for the same woman, set against a tapestry of shady manoeuverings for political power. The dynamic between Fraser and Caine is fascinating to watch as these two accomplished actors navigate the paradoxes of Pyle and Fowler's relationship. Aided by the beautiful cinematography of Christopher Doyle (best known for his collaborations with Wong Kar-wai), Noyce achieves an uncannily visceral evocation of a time and space charged with intrigues both personal and international.


Miramax decided to hold this project back, post-September 11, due to both the terrorism featured in the plot and what could be perceived as anti-American sentiment (although, in fact, the book's stance is against Pyle's ignorance and misplaced idealism, irrespective of nationality). Only extensive lobbying from the director and cast persuaded the mountainous ego of Harvey Weinstein to change his mind.

The Quiet American has been filmed once already. The 1958 version and was directed Joseph L. Mankiewicz, director of Sleuth. Caine has, of course, been in another Graham Greene adaptation, the risible Honorary Consul.


IMDb: Internet Movie Database entry for The Quiet American.

Brendan Fraser has his own official site which is a huge improvement on most official sites. Check out photos for behind-the scenes shots (taken by Brendan himself) of the Quiet American cast and crew, as well as the Vietnam scenery. For fansites, click here.

Dan Ford, who has a military-based site, has information about the location and a picture of Caine and Fraser while filming.

For more information on Graham Greene, try Greeneland.

If you wish to go to Vietnam and walk in the characters' footsteps, then try Literary Traveller, an excellent site which offers travelogues related to the literary world's most exotic locations.