The Quiet American Review
By Joe Lozito
Michael Caine is always good. Even in drivel like "Jaws: The Revenge" he's fun to watch. But when he really connects with a role - when he bites into it with that accent of his, as in "Hannah and Her Sisters" or the underrated "A Shock to the System" - he can be riveting. Such is the case in Philip Noyce's adaptation of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American". Mr. Caine's Thomas Fowler is an opium-smoking journalist who has fallen in love with a Vietnamese girl during his assignment as a correspondent in 1950s Saigon. Fowler prides himself on being objective; "don't get involved" is his motto. So when he meets American aide worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), who "has a face with no history, no problems," Fowler immediately becomes the younger man's guide and mentor.
In "Gods and Monsters", Mr. Fraser showed that there is more to him than the cartoon action hero of "The Mummy" series. Here, he is well cast as a man who is impossibly naïve. He's a perfect contrast for Caine's Fowler, but when he is called upon to let his true colors show he lacks the gravity to pull it off. It is in those crucial climactic moments that he feels false.
The beautiful Do Thi Hai Yen plays Phuong, the young Vietnamese girl who comes between Fowler and Pyle. While she isn't given much to do, that is sort of the point. She is not a character as much as a representation of Vietnam as a country. Here are two men who think they can save her, but they are not interested in her as much as their own personal agendas. Mr. Noyce interweaves the political and romantic plots masterfully. It's good to see the Noyce that directed 1989's "Dead Calm" steering away from more bombastic fare ("Bone Collector", "The Saint") and coming back to his quieter roots.