Modern Mondays: The Quiet American (2001)

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A day late, a bit slime on content, but not forgotten…

Since the death of Robert McNamara last week I’ve been thinking a lot about the man who was often called the “Architect of the Vietnam War.” And I was reminded of one of my favorite films of the last decade that explored the American involvement that led to the war in Vietnam, Phillip Noyce’s excellent 2001 adaptation of Graham Greene classic novel The Quiet American.

Phillip Noyce isn’t a director who I’m particularly fond of. I’ve sat though five or six of his films, but the only two that left any kind of impression on me were his terrific thriller Dead Calm (1989) and The Quiet American. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was the first director to turn Graham Greene’s novel into a film, but Phillip Noyce’s 2001 remake of The Quiet American is not only a better movie than the original, but I also think it’s one of the best adaptations of Graham Greene’s work that I’ve seen.

The film stars Michael Caine in what is arguably one of his finest roles. In the film Caine plays a married British journalist named Thomas Fowler who is living in Vietnam and having an affair with a young Vietnamese woman called Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). After Thomas meets an idealistic American by the name of Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) and introduces him to Phoung, the stage is set for a complicated love triangle that plays out against the backdrop of the escalating political situation in Vietnam. The plot may sound a bit dry, but The Quiet American is actually a very suspenseful film that is filled with political intrigue and beautifully shot by the incredibly talented cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Miramax shelved the film for more than a year because producers were concerned that it would be seen as anti-American after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Thankfully Michael Caine was able to persuade the studio to screen the film at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival where it received great reviews and afterward it was finally released into theaters. The film went on to win many awards and Michael Caine was even nominated for an Oscar for his performance. If you haven’t had an opportunity to see the film yet, now might be an appropriate time.


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Modern Mondays is an ongoing project here at Cinebeats where I share a few thoughts or lengthy rants and raves about my favorite films produced during the last decade. Films previously mentioned on Modern Mondays include:

The Left Bank (2008)
Love Songs (2007)
Bright Future (2003)
Control (2007)
The Quiet American (2001)

6 thoughts on “Modern Mondays: The Quiet American (2001)

  1. Brian says:

    Noyce is nothing if not hit-and-miss, but this was a fine adaptation. I read the novel while living in Southeast Asia, and seeing the film within a year or so of my return from the region made it particularly impactful for me.

    What do you think of Neil Jordan’s the End of the Affair?

  2. Kimberly Lindbergs says:

    You lived in Southeast Asia for awhile? Fascinating! I’d love to hear more about your experiences there.

    I’m afraid I still need to see The End of the Affair. For one reason or another I’ve managed to put it off, but I did catch a bit of it playing on TV and was intrigued. Did you like it?

  3. Brian says:

    I adored it, though it’s been a long time since my last revisit.

    I taught English in Thailand for about a year and a half nearly a decade ago, and used the opportunity to take short visits to the surrounding countries. Never made it to Vietnam, but the French influence in the cities of Laos and Cambodia were unmistakable.

  4. Rick says:

    I think you’re right: one of Caine’s finest performances. As far as Noyce is concerned, I kind of like “Rabbit Proof Fence,” myself.

    Thanks for reminding of this great film!

  5. Peter Nellhaus says:

    I also liked Noyce’s version of Greene far better than the Mankiewicz version which had to be compromised in part because of the political atmosphere of the times. If you have a chance, check out Noyce’s earlier film, Heatwave from 1982.

  6. Kimberly Lindbergs says:

    Brian – Thanks to your rec I’ve added it to my Netflix que. And thanks for sharing that bit of info about your time in Thailand. I always love hearing about people’s adventures living overseas.

    Rick – Glad you agree. I’d even go so far to say that it’s his best performance in the last decade. I love Caine! I never seen Rabbit Proof Fence but you’ve made me curious about it.

    Peter – I also had some problems with Audie Murphy & Giorgia Moll in the Mankiewicz film. They just didn’t work for me in their roles. Generally speaking, I’ve never really understood the appeal of Audie Murphy as an actor so I probably have some personal bias in that regard. Heatwave is another Noyce film I’ve never seen so maybe I should give it a look. Obviously I’ve been watching the wrong Noyce films, but I like some of his directing choices so I’m open to seeing more of his work. I think he’s very good at managing suspenseful situations and he has a great eye for detail.

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