Fueled by cynicism, Fowler provides only marginal coverage of the conflict for the London Times. Long separated from a wife back home, he is obsessed with his beautiful young mistress Phuong (Hai Yen Do). The man also has an affinity for opium, less prominent in the movie than on the printed page. His contentment in the midst of Saigon's intrigue and corruption is disrupted by the arrival of diplomat Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), the title character. As an apparently naïve idealist, this Boston native believes his rah-rah values can save both Phuong and her homeland from evildoers.
To trace the circumstances of Pyle's murder--a demise revealed in early scenes--the plot flashes back through memories narrated by Fowler. They become romantic rivals who care about each other, until a covert betrayal overwhelms personal issues. But Caine is too overtly emotional for the role; Fowler should be more reserved, with a dry, sardonic wit that stings. “The Quiet American” lacks sting. Its love story eclipses rather than complements the inherent spy thriller that skewers Yankee imperialism in the book. After 9/11, perhaps Noyce figured a less-than-patriotic outlook might dismay an unquiet American distributor. Starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Hai Yen Do, Rade Serbedzija and Tai Yen Do. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Written by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan. Produced by Staffan Ahrenberg, William Horberg, Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack. A Miramax release. Historical drama. Rated R for images of violence and some language. Running time: 101 min.