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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 16:51 GMT
The Quiet American
Michael Caine in The Quiet American
Newsnight Review discussed The Quiet American, an adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, directed by Philip Noyce and starring Michael Caine.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

I think Graham Greene enjoyed the idea that he was still upsetting the Americans. Can you understand why it worried them?

It was a book that came out in the '50s and the plot is about the Americans trying to get into Vietnam and the French are losing the war against Communism.

It's wonderful to see this film coming out as the 1958 version softened up the American brutality. In the 1958 version, the scene when the bomb goes off in the middle of the Saigon square happens offstage and the heartbreaking scene with the woman covering her dead baby with a hat is cut out. It sanitised the events.

Caine was born to the role. When I heard he was doing it I thought him too old, but he captures this wonderful rugged cynical person trying to escape home. You understand his love of Saigon. It's a fantastic story. It shows that the force of the Americans across the world is pretty terrifying.

Ian Rankin, it's virtually a talking book at points. There is so much voice over. Do you think it's a correct decision?

Voice over is usually a bad sign in a movie that indicates the director doesn't think they are able to explain the situation to a wide enough audience. I don't think it needed a voice over, although with a Graham Greene novel in the first person, you need some of that.

It's a great time for the film to come out. We need films to remind us what a morally ambiguous universe we live in. It's apocalypse then - everything that leads up to Vietnam - and we should be reminded as we step towards war that every art has an echo down the ages.

The leads pull it off well. Brendan Fraser is a very good actor. I've seen him in everything and he's flexible. He's a great film actor and sparks off against Caine.

Usually when I see a Michael Cane film I count the number of times he blinks. This is a good Michael Caine film. Brendan Fraser never blinks; he's learnt a lot from Caine clearly. The great Brendan Fraser film is Bedazzled where he plays five or six characters.

For me it was a one-man show, the Michael Caine show. He reflected the literary quality of the film. The way he lived inside the character made it a metaphorical film and the metaphors were there. He represents Britain, Fraser represents America and the Vietnamese lady represents Vietnam. Simple, but beautifully done.

Michael Caine got the film released. One of the reasons he has a complicated relationship with Britain is that he often leaves to make films. He comes back and says how dreadful this country is. I thought the film was one of the best embodiments of those Graham Greene self-tortured characters.

Graham Greene's novels are a study of exiles with complicated feelings about their homelands and the perfect vehicle is the embittered cynical journalist. Vietnam is a great stage to act this out. Michael Caine's character acquires the wonderful girlfriend. There's a great line which likens saving the girl to saving the country.

I adore the concept of Phuong and her older sister. Their vision is to get married and get out. The moment the sister discovers that Caine is married and can't get divorced, she encourages her sister to go for Pyle. It hurts Michael Caine's character no end.

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