Classic Intel: The Quiet American - DVD Review

'It is no easy feat to translate the duplicitous effect of Greene's novels to screen, but Noyce makes it seem easy.'

Phillip Noyce's apparently forgotten but still very impressive The Quiet American does a terrific job of translating Graham Greene's novel to the big screen. Greene and authors like John le Carré tell these rich stories of a time we would like to see through rose-tinted spectacles but are forced by them to see through a clear magnifying glass. It is no easy feat to translate that duplicitous effect to screen, but Noyce makes it seem easy.

In this case, we are in post-WW2 Vietnam, following Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine), a journalist of some apparent repute, now stuck romanticising Saigon through opium and a relationship with Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). Into that equation comes Pyle (Brendan Fraser), a young American aid worker whose intentions and politics are anything but clear.

It doesn't take a genius to see where the Pyle story is going, given Vietnam's post-war history, but Noyce does well to manage the plot points with subtlety in the main, building to a conclusion teased in the opening crawl and eventually satisfyingly resolved. Many of the potential flaws are arguably Greene's. Fowler is anything but a hero, but that he gets somewhere close to being so speaks to his background: he is English and a writer and therefore remains largely clear of large scale moral blame.

That is not to say, however, that he is perfect and one of Noyce's main successes is how grey of a film this is. Pyle is the personification of US foreign policy; outwardly likeable but eventually despicable of motive. Meanwhile Fowler's motivations flip flop between personal, pride and moral and Phuong seems rather to go with the fair tide. It's not always easy to know who to root for, this is not a film that labels 'good' and 'bad' and it is all the better for it.

Fraser, now reduced to things like Furry Vengeance, is convincingly slimy and arguably close to a career best: it remains a Hollywood mystery that after showings like this, his high charm outings in The Mummy series and, most notably, Gods And Monsters, he has not gone on to something more. Caine occasionally looks disinterested, but the plot normally covers for him. If there is a character problem it is with a lack of focus dedicated to Hinh (Tzi Ma), whose eventually involvement suggests he warranted a much closer look.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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