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Phillip Noyce
Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Rade Sherbedgia, Do Thi Hai Yen
Writing Credits:
Graham Greene, Christopher Hampton, Robert Schenkkan

In war, the most powerful weapon is seduction.

Inia land of mystery, murder and betrayal, your closest friend can be your worst enemy.

The acclaimed performances of two-time Academy Award winner Michael Caine (Best Supporting Actor: The Cider House Rules; 1999 Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986) and Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, Gods and Monsters) power a stylish political thriller where love and war collide in Southeast Asia! Set in early 1950s Vietnam - a young American (Fraser) becomes entangled in a dangerous love triangle when he falls for the beautiful mistress of a British journalist (Caine). As a war is waged around them, these three only sink deeper into a world of drugs, passion and betrayal where nothing is as it seems! Based on the classic novel by Graham Greene - you'll find yourself riveted by the fascinating intricacies and ever-developing intrigue of this outstanding motion picture!
Box Office:
Budget $30 million.
Opening Weekend
$101,663 on 6 screens.
Domestic Gross
$12.948 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 7/29/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director Phillip Noyce, Actors Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Tzi Ma, Executive Producer Sydney Pollack, Produers Staffan Ahrenberg and William Horberg, Co-writer Christopher Hampton, and Interpreter and Advisor to Phillip Noyce, Tran An Hua
• “Anatomy of a Scene”
• Original Featurette
• Vietnam Timeline
• Original Book Reviews of The Quiet American
• Sneak Peeks
• DVD-ROM Features

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Quiet American (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 24, 2003)

Director Phillip Noyce engineered a very interesting career move in 2002. Previously best known for action flicks like Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, he went after more introspective fare that year. Noyce directed two movies in 2002: the inspirational drama Rabbit-Proof Fence and the historical drama The Quiet American.

Based on a novel by Graham Greene, American takes place in Saigon circa 1952 during the war between the Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese nationalists and the imperialist French. The flick opens with the death of a “quiet American” named Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser). We meet British reporter Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine), someone who knew Pyle and who identifies the body in the morgue.

From there the movie flashes back and we learn more about the pair. We find that Pyle works on the medical side of an American economic mission. He comes across as an idealist who wants to help the locals. With his wife back home in England, Fowler maintains a romance with the much younger Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), whom he clearly appears to care about above and beyond any simple affair. When he sees her, Pyle falls for her immediately, which sets the stage for a love triangle.

Because he doesn’t seem to produce much useful material in Vietnam, Fowler’s editor sends him a memo to reassign him to London. Since Fowler wants to stay in Vietnam, he steps up his production and goes north on a reporting mission with French troops. He also worries he’ll lose Phuong to Pyle after he sees a connection between the pair. Fowler encounters his rival during this mission, and the younger man declares his love for Phuong.

The rest of the film follows the development of the love triangle. In addition, we learn more about Pyle. Fowler starts to discover intriguing aspects of his rival’s character and it seems that his assignment in Vietnam may not be quite as benign as we’re originally led to believe.

In most ways, The Quiet American seems like a pretty conventional flick. Its emphasis on the fairly early stages of the conflict in Vietnam makes it somewhat different, though. The vast majority of Vietnam movies deal with the American military role and concentrate on combat. American doesn’t quite go to the roots of the battle, but it comes a lot closer and helps give us a glimpse at the way things started there.

However, American remains a thriller at its heart. It includes a compelling backdrop for its story, but its combination of murder mystery and love triangle means that it never strays too far into new territory. Much of the movie appears fairly predictable; it doesn’t exactly come as a shock when we discover new facets of Pyle’s role and personality. The film can be too easy to read and lacks tremendous depth.

Nonetheless, Noyce executes the work pretty well, and it always remains an interesting watch. A lot of that stems from his restraint. Noyce never veers into any form of heavy-handed moralizing, and while the plot twists don’t seem tough to predict, the director doesn’t telegraph them. The movie feels reasonably objective and well told.

The actors help. Caine pulls off the emotional nuances and growth in his role nicely. Part of the movie emphasizes how Fowler comes off the sidelines and becomes more intensely involved in life, and Caine doesn’t make those parts appear forced or hammy. Fraser also does well with Pyle. An underrated actor, Fraser doesn’t quite seem to be in Caine’s league, but he holds his own here.

Simply because they came from the same director in the same year, I find it hard not to compare The Quiet American to Rabbit-Proof Fence, and I definitely prefer the latter. It created one of the most effective and understated inspirational stories I’ve seen in a while, whereas American feels more like a good but not great thriller. Still, it has a lot to offer and seems like a worthwhile experience.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

The Quiet American appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A rather stylized flick, most of American looked pretty solid.

Sharpness generally appeared fine. More than a few wider shots came across as moderately soft, but those sequences failed to create substantial problems. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement seemed apparent. As for print flaws, the image appeared free from defects, though some moderate grain showed up at times.

The toughest elements to grade related to colors. American presented a generally subdued palette, as the hues often looked faded and pale. This seemed to result from design choices, but the colors appeared slightly unsatisfactory at times anyway. The ashen look made the movie seem a little less well defined than I’d like, though it often displayed tones that were nicely distinct and rich. Black levels also varied. Mostly they seemed respectably dense and deep, but they occasionally came across as somewhat inky and flat. Shadow detail was adequate but lacked terrific definition. Some shots – like the nighttime ones of Pyle and Fowler on the road – looked rather dark and a little too opaque. Ultimately, most of The Quiet American presented a fairly good image, but it never became anything exceptional.

Despite the movie’s generally chatty nature, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Quiet American proved to be surprisingly active. Much of that resulted from the occasional war segments. Those offered a great sense of place and atmosphere. The sounds of battle popped up in the appropriate places and transitioned smoothly from channel to channel. These segments made fine use of the surrounds and created a nicely involving environment. Other scenes also worked well. The movie featured good stereo music that blended well with the rears, and quieter sections featured nice atmospheric elements. The soundfield seemed convincing and accurate.

Audio quality also was positive. Some of the dialogue wasn’t looped terribly well, but the lines remained reasonably natural and distinct throughout the movie. I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded rich and vibrant, as the score was clear and smooth. Effects lacked any concerns related to distortion and were vivid and dynamic. Bass response played an active role only sporadically, but low-end elements seemed tight and appropriately powerful. Overall, the audio of The Quiet American was very positive for this material.

A few supplements pop up on The Quiet American. We start with an audio commentary from director Phillip Noyce, actors Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Tzi Ma, executive producer Sydney Pollack, producers Staffan Ahrenberg and William Horberg, co-writer Christopher Hampton, and interpreter and advisor to Phillip Noyce, Tran An Hua. All the participants were recorded separately for this edited track.

Overall, the commentary offered a good look at the movie. The speakers told us about their personal reflections on Vietnam, the path the flick took to the screen, elements of the production, and quite a lot of other things. All of the participants seemed interesting, but I probably liked Caine’s remarks most of all, as he provided some good insight into his work. The track provided an intriguing and useful examination of the film.

From the Sundance Channel, Anatomy of a Scene examines the segment in which a bomb explodes in Saigon. It runs 22 minutes and three seconds and mixes movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews with director Noyce, actors Caine and Fraser, editor John Scott, co-screenwriter Hampton, executive producer Pollack, producer Horberg, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and composer Craig Armstrong. While “Anatomy” includes some general notes about the film, it mostly concentrates on the scene in question. It gives us a myriad of details about the sequence; from cinematography to acting to location to audio, the program gets into the scene in detail. It’s a solid piece that offers some interesting material.

Less compelling, the Original Featurette lasts five minutes and 18 seconds. It combines lots of movie snippets, a few behind the scenes images, and sound bites from Noyce, Hampton, Caine, Fraser, Pollack and Horberg. The piece essentially just tells us about the story and characters and tosses out some fluffy praise for all involved. You’ll learn nothing during this bland promotional segment that you won’t find elsewhere.

For historical details, we go to the Vietnam Timeline. This starts back in the 2nd century BC and progresses through the end of the war in 1975. Unsurprisingly, it seems superficial, but it gives us a quick and decent run through the history of the conflict.

Another text feature, we get Original Book Reviews of The Quiet American. Three of these appear: one each from The New Republic, The Commonwealth, and The Saturday Review. The first one seems like the most intriguing, but all three offer good looks at the text. Note that all of them also include many story spoilers, so you should probably wait until you’ve seen the film to read them.

Though the disc fails to include the trailer for American, we get a few other ads in the Sneak Peeks area. There we locate promos for Chicago, Frida, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Gangs of New York plus a general ad for the “Miramax New Golden Age”.

Finally, we get some DVD-ROM Features, but don’t expect much. We just find a slightly spiffier – and also slower-moving – “Vietnam Timeline” plus some weblinks.

Though not totally satisfying, The Quiet American provides a nicely understated and generally interesting piece. The movie benefits from its subdued nature and some solid performances. The DVD presents acceptable but unexceptional picture quality along with surprisingly robust audio and a fairly good selection of supplements. For fans of historical drama, The Quiet American merits a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7692 Stars Number of Votes: 13
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