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Movie Review: "The Quiet American"

I don't mean to turn this blog totally into a movie review site, but I do love movies, and there happen to be quite a few good ones out right now -- in fact, I think 2002 was one of the best years in recent times for movies, and it is the award season, so there have been screenings available recently. So, keeping in mind that soon, this will become a more baseball-related blog, bear with me, and in fact, the three movies reviewed here in the last three days are all Oscar-worthy contenders.

It's a rare film that begins with the murder of one of the main characters, and I'm a bit puzzled by this, because it both clears up and creates mystery. Obviously, you're going to know the ending (or part of it, at least), but you also want to know why this happened, and therein lies the setup to this film, much of the rest of which is told in flashback.

Brendan Fraser's character, Alden Pyle, is the murder victim as the film opens. He's obviously got some kind of relationship with Thomas Foster, played by Michael Caine, nominated for best actor for this role of a London Times reporter, because Foster is being questioned by a French detective. The movie is set in Vietnam, in 1952 known as French Indo-China, and Pyle is supposedly working for an import-export outfit. We later learn that this isn't quite the case, as both Pyle and Foster are drawn into the coming war which finally booted the French out of there and got the U.S. involved, to our eternal regret.

There's more to this story, of course -- there's also a love interest, played enchantingly by Do Thi Hai Yen. Problem is, both Pyle and Foster are in love with her. There are complications in all of this beyond even that, but I won't spoil them, because that's what leads to the final climax of the film.

This has been portrayed as a very anti-American film, because of how it shows the shady way in which the CIA tried to push American interests in the region. I didn't see that much of that, but this is indeed a "quiet" film in the way in which it shows you how the culture and politics of Vietnam managed to culminate in US involvement over there, and makes the point that we didn't really understand what makes Vietnam tick, even though at one point it's stated that "you can understand Saigon in ten minutes".

This year's Best Actor category is a tough call, with Caine being nominated along with Adrien Brody and Daniel Day-Lewis from the movies reviewed here the last two days, along with Nicolas Cage in "Adaptation", and Jack Nicholson for "About Schmidt". All of these actors were wonderful, and the films worth seeing.

My opinion is that Brody deserves the award, Day-Lewis put together the most dynamic performance, but the Academy may honor Jack Nicholson, both for his body of work and for the fact that "About Schmidt" didn't get any other major nominations.

But I digress.

"The Quiet American" is, indeed, quiet. But it sneaks up on you and makes important points, is beautifully photographed (on location in Ho Chi Minh City), and well acted all around, including by Fraser, who ought to do more of this kind of script, and not the silly stuff he's been in like "Encino Man" and "Bedazzled".

AYRating: *** 1/2