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The Quiet American review

The Quiet American
15certificate 15
Running time: 101 minutes
Starring: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija, Holmes Osbourne
Rating 8 out of 10
If the thought of seeing another movie about the Vietnam War leaves you cold, then you are probably not alone. Ever since Hollywood allowed America to seek redemption about the whole sorry war with films such as The Deer Hunter and Platoon, it's as if the country has forgiven itself through a kind of celluloid confession. Not that the films were necessarily bad - many were deservedly rewarded - but the idea of such salvation has probably stuck in the throats of countries outside the borders of the US.

Twenty-five years after The Deer Hunter, with the US still marching into smaller territories in order to establish its idea of order, comes a film which is thankfully free of glib platitudes and looks at the situation in Vietnam ten years before the Americans became militarily involved. Based on the work of an Englishman (Graham Greene) and directed by an Australian (Philip Noyce) the film has courted controversy across the water for its supposed anti-Americanism. Well, tough. If the truth hurts then this often majestic piece of cinema may well serve as a reminder that external affairs are sometimes best left alone. Brendan Fraser plays the eponymous character, a mild-mannered medical aid worker called Alden Pyle who finds himself in Vietnam in the early 50s. The country is beginning to become embroiled in what would eventually become one of the biggest wars of the century and Pyle is there ostensibly to dispense eye treatment to the nation's ailing public. A chance meeting with London Times journalist Thomas Fowler (Caine) introduces him to the real Vietnam: opium dens, prostitute parlours and a general sense of ex-pat excess.

More importantly however Pyle meets, and instantly falls in love with, Fowler's Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). Ignoring convention he admits his love to the pair and offers her the chance to marry him and move to America. Despite being the English gent, Fowler is obviously put out at the American's brash proposal.

But this is only partly a love story. The political background effects everyone's life in Vietnam and director Noyce manages to explain the complexities of the situation in a gratifyingly simple manner. Avoiding a tubthumping stance, he clearly marks out the path to the inevitable war, and while the question remains about whether the film is anti-American or not, it is evident that in Vietnam they reaped the rewards of what they had sown.

The film also benefits hugely from a sublime performance from Caine. While Fraser is suitably timid yet self-confident and newcomer Do Thi Hai Yen radiates as the girl in the middle, it is Caine's show from the very beginning. Managing to look somehow younger than of late, he is every inch the glorious ex-pat hack: smug in the little kingdom he has created and by the end, desperate to cling on to it. It's at least equal to anything Caine has been rewarded for in the last few years, but the brouhaha surrounding the film may prevent him from adding to his trophy cabinet.

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