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"The Quiet American"

Directed by Phillip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger").
Written by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan.
Starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. 
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  2/17/03 


What would your week be without a little Saigon?  “The Quiet American”, set in 1952 Saigon as the French and Vietnamese are tussling throughout Vietnam and Indo-China, filled up my weekly think-about-Saigon requirement.

You know it is slow at the movies when one of the films of note stars Brendan Fraser--star of such average fare as “The Mummy” films and “Dudley Do-Right”--as an American medical officer working in Saigon while hitting on the Vietnamese table dancer girlfriend of a writer for the London Times (Michael Caine).  Based on the book of the same name, the film opens with the medical officer’s body floating in a lake near a popular Saigon nightspot.  We cut back to the beginning on the relationship between the two men as they spar over politics, the table dancer, and their slow-burn friendship as the political turmoil turns deadly for all involved.

Caine is not bad, Fraser is not bad, the drama is not bad (since most of it is removed with the opening scene), Do Thi Hai Yen is not bad as Phuong the table dancer, the direction by Phillip Noyce (“Clear and Present Danger”, “Rabbit-Proof Fence”) is not bad, the way Saigon is filmed is not too bad...the whole damned thing, even the hum-drum title, is not too bad.  The film makes itself predictable by showing us the ending first; nothing about the three main characters is very interesting or, for that matter, very boring.  The running time of the film is about average (about 110 minutes), the score is serviceable, and the story is very easy to follow.

This might be more perfect than any Matinee film I have ever seen at capturing the Matinee rating.  It really is the kind of film where you leave the theater and you are already on your next day’s task list.  We watched it as part of our Sunday night film club gathering, and we didn’t even talk about the film when we went to dinner afterwards.  That is a rarity, since we usually spend at least a little time going around the table to see what people thought of the film.

“The Quiet American” wasn’t great, but it didn’t suck.  You could do worse, but wouldn’t you rather do better?  (Note:  this review was written last Sunday, before the Oscar nominations were announced; I am absolutely shocked that Michael Caine was nominated for an Oscar for this role.  Shocked!)

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09