By Tom Brook
entertainment correspondent in New York
Sir Michael Caine's latest picture The Quiet American was unexpectedly controversial in the United States.
Sir Michael Caine: "Not an anti-American film"
Its US distributor delayed its release fearing it might be perceived as less than patriotic.
The film, based on Graham Greene's celebrated 1955 novel, is seen as contentious.
It shows an act of American-sponsored terrorism in Saigon in which innocent civilians die, at a time when the US Government is loudly decrying such lawless acts.
The Quiet American also links early US involvement in Indochina in the 1950s with the quagmire of the Vietnam War that followed a decade later.
By so doing it implicitly questions the advisability of US interventionism just as President Bush is trying to rally world opinion behind an American-led invasion of Iraq.
The New York Times reported that the film "could be seen as a searing critique of United States imperialism".
Caine, who plays the role of a weary British foreign correspondent in Vietnam in the film, is quick to rebut charges that the picture is anti-American.
"I wouldn't make an anti-American film - I'm the most pro-American foreigner there is.
Caine gives an unusually serious performance
"What the film is, is anti the 3-400 people who started America's entry into the Vietnam War and if my memory is correct 90% of Americans are anti them too.
"It is not anti-American, it is anti a few Americans."
The picture was ready for test screenings well over a year before release, but Miramax Films, its US distributor, delayed its release after 11 September 2002 amid concerns its content would not sit well with American audiences.
But when the film received strong critical praise at the recent Toronto Film Festival, where Caine and Australian director Phillip Noyce lobbied hard for a US release, Miramax finally relented.
Noyce finds he has made a $30m film that has become far more controversial and topical than he ever imagined.
"Suddenly history and this movie have coincided, it's suddenly a movie that deals with themes that are torn straight out of today's headlines and possibly tomorrow's."
Had it not been for 11 September and the possibility of a US invasion of Iraq, the political subtext of The Quiet American would probably have attracted little attention.
The film would have been seen more as the story of a murderous love triangle set in Saigon in the early 1950s in which Caine, playing opposite Brendan Fraser, artfully portrays a weary British foreign correspondent.
There isn't a single moment of me in there at all and that's the first time I've ever accomplished that
Caine has been widely praised for a performance which has brought the Oscar-winning actor - who will turn 70 next year - another Academy Award nomination.
"I think that it's a different performance than he's given in quite a while," says Ian Mohr, a film reporter for trade publication The Hollywood Reporter.
"It is something that people haven't seen, a different view of Michael Caine, it's a more serious role than he's done recently."
Caine, a veteran of 100 screen roles in a 40-year career, is clearly proud of his work in The Quiet American because he believes he has made his real self invisible in the role.
As he puts it: "I've seen it three times now and there isn't a single moment of me in there at all and that's the first time I've ever accomplished that.
"I thought I was accomplishing it when I played the part which made it the happiest of working experiences."