The Quiet American Review

Mark Boydell has reviewed the Region 2 release of The Quiet American, Phillip Noyce’s slick adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel has been given a good release by Buena Vista with a decent amount of extras. Out today.

Saigon 1952: Tom Fowler (Caine) has fallen in love with Vietnam and with the gorgeous Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), his Vietnamese mistress. His position as a foreign correspondent for a UK newspaper allows him to meander round Saigon and do the occasional piece of reporting but lately the newspaper has decided that there’s little to cover in Vietnam and are recalling him to London. This spells disaster for Fowler as Alden Pyle (Fraser), an American doctor, seems to be showing too much interest towards Phuong. Can he convince her to return to London with him or will she prefer the younger charms of the American?

Though many films bombed or were delayed due to 11/09/01 (Donnie Darko, Buffalo Soldiers…), The Quiet American seems to have suffered the most from the fallout. Miramax, not renowned for being a spineless studio, decided that the US public was not ready to have their foreign policy scrutinised (albeit 50 years down the line). Michael Caine had to do his utmost to get it released in the States, desperately hoping for an Oscar nomination but the film was only given minimal studio backing and a staggered worldwide release meaning, as with Buffalo Soldiers, the UK was the first country to see the film.

Noyce seems to have been working overtime recently to restore the reputation of his early years. It’s hard to imagine this is indeed the same man who gave us the stupendously dire Bone Collector or the disastrous The Saint, as The Quiet American is an all round success. The acting is pitch perfect – Caine is controlled and gives the cynical British journalist he incarnates a fragile but powerful presence. Brendan Fraser also does well to keep up with Caine with a strong performance as the delightfully complex Pyle who’s characterisation thankfully avoids the pitfall of stereotyping. Do Thi Hai Yen seems to only appear on screen to make the audience understand why Caine and Fraser would be fighting over her and gives a controlled and delicate performance without overplaying.

The cinematography, under the able direction of Christopher Doyle, brings out warm colours and exhudes that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes every film Doyle touches glow. The script tends to keep things moving despite some obvious lengths – though Noyce tends to over-explicate the plot at times and is a little clumsy in so doing, the plot stands up despite of this. The fantastic production design probably helps make every second interesting thanks to its detail and depth. The most remarkable element of the film is how prophetic Greene’s novel was especially with the US’ current situation in Iraq and gives the film a surprising modernity despite the timeframe. A very good effort from Noyce which will hopefully be seen in the future as a missed gem.

The DVD:

The image:Though generally the image is very good, I found that certain scenes didn’t come through as sharp as they did in the cinema and are somewhat murky and grainy. Granted these scenes are few and far between and the rest of the transfer is problem-free with a good balance of colours and contrast.

The sound:The soundtrack works well with a good use of surround effects and the sub-woofer when needed – the street scenes benefit from this too with the sounds of Saigon enveloping the viewer. Most of the dialogue however is focused in the center, making it a conservative but excellent soundtrack.

The extras:The major extra is the commentary which features members of the cast (Caine, Fraser, Tzi Ma), Noyce and his vietnamese assistant and many more… Thanks to the sheer quantity of particpants, it never tends to go quiet but seems at times too dense to be grasped in one sitting and at times a little difficult to be certain who is speaking. Still it’s a very good commentary replete with interesting facts about the making of the film, the genesis of the script etc.

Added to this we get a detailed timeline of Vietnam from the 40s – though it’s not that easy to navigate, it’s a good addition for those slightly confused about the chain of events that led to the war. The Sundance Channel also made an excellent half-hour long feature (Anatomy of a scene) on one of the pivotal scenes in the film – spoilers abound however so though an excellent addition to the commentary, it is best left unviewed until you’ve seen the film.

Closing the extras, there’s the usual trailer, a rather dull and short (5 mins) featurette that seems more like a short film promo and a series of reviews of Greene’s novel – all of these are slightly dissapointing and feel more like padding than anything else.

Conclusions:The DVD provides some very good extras along with good image and sound making it a must buy for anyone who missed the film in the cinema.

Mark Boydell

Updated: Sep 08, 2003

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
The Quiet American Review | The Digital Fix