The Quiet American (2001)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 15-Oct-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Filmmakers And Actors
Featurette-Anatomy Of A Scene
Notes-Vietnam Timeline
Notes-Original Book Reviews Of The Quiet American
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 96:38
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (63:12) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Phillip Noyce

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Michael Caine
Brendan Fraser
Do Thi Hai Yen
Rade Serbedzija
Tzi Ma
Robert Stanton
Holmes Osborne
Quang Hai
Ferdinand Hoang
Pham Thi Mai Hoa
Mathias Mlekuz
Kevin Tran
Lap Phan
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Craig Armstrong

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
English Titling
Danish Audio Commentary
Norwegian Audio Commentary
Finnish Audio Commentary
Swedish Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes,
But the rest has got to be lived."

    Australian director Phillip Noyce's The Quiet American is based on the 1950s political novel of the same name by Graham Greene. The location is Vietnam. But it is the Vietnam which we so rarely see in a Hollywood film. It is 1952 and the Vietnamese are struggling against their early colonialists, the French. It is several years before any American GIs are ever seen, and before the country was divided into north and south. The communists are attempting to get a foothold, but the French are for now keeping them at bay. As we all know, this situation does not last for long.

    Sir Michael Caine is Thomas Fowler, a world-weary journalist for the London Times. To say he is living a relaxed and pleasurable life in Saigon is an understatement. Fowler is extremely comfortable in his existence. In between sipping tea at the best hotel in the city, he indulges in the odd puff of opium and has the affections of a beautiful young Vietnamese mistress named Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). Phoung is infatuated with the urbane westerner many years her senior, and with the promise of a better life and marriage clings to him with zest. But Fowler is married and his wife back in England, in her staunch Catholic way, is unlikely to permit him a divorce. Fowler is also about to have his comfortable life rudely disrupted. Having filed only three stories in the last year for the paper, his editor back in London is growing agitated and a review of foreign operations sees him ordered back to head office. Moreover, a young and quietly polite American aid worker named Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) appears in Saigon and is immediately love-struck with Phuong. He is unable to hide his affections, and effectively begins a battle for the hand of the fair maiden. When he saves the life of the cynical old journalist during a sortie into occupied territory, it appears Fowler may just be losing his grip on his true love. Pyle's motives for being in Vietnam are also beginning to raise suspicions in Fowler. Despite claiming the mantle of an aid worker, Pyle's naive idealism about the need for the third force in the country, one to counter both the French and the communists is just a little obvious for Fowler's journalistic instincts to ignore. When certain atrocities akin to terrorism occur, with neither the French nor the communists seemingly responsible, Fowler begins to suspect this growing 'third force' spoken about by Pyle. But the two men are also striking an unlikely friendship which appears to be stronger than the plots and intrigue surrounding them...or is it?

    With the battle for the affections of the lovely Vietnamese native between the conservative occupier (Fowler) and the idealistic outsider (Pyle) set against a political backdrop which almost mirrors the three-way battle, this is a story with strong metaphorical undertones that are perhaps just a little too obvious (Fraser's character even makes mention of it). But it is told with such deftness of hand that you are instantly aware from the opening credits that there is no black and white here. No good guys versus bad guys. Everyone has flaws, and everyone is willing to stretch their morals to further the cause of what they believe.

    This film was slated for release in mid-to-late 2001. But a certain event on September 11 gave Miramax a nervous twitch and they decided a film about America's involvement in funding terrorism would probably not be appropriate. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and it finally received the release and the acclaim it so richly deserved. It is really quite remarkable that a story which offers so much complexity revolving around both a political and emotional love story such as this can be told in less than 90 minutes. This is a real indication of the no-nonsense approach taken with stripping the story back to the barest minimum. It does not suffer in the slightest for it and is highly recommended viewing.

    Released originally as a rental-only disc devoid of extras, Buena Vista have now released this powerful story with a host of extras.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    Despite an increased number of chapter stops, this would appear to be the exact same transfer that was used for the rental disc. Certainly the couple of problems that I noted originally are still present.

    The transfer is presented in the original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and is also 16x9 enhanced.

    A nicely detailed and sharp picture throughout is on offer, with few problems to report and no annoying edge enhancement. Shadow detail is handled well, though a couple of scenes are a little dimly lit and I'd suggest watching in a darkened room to get the best effect. There is no low level noise. Overall, grain is probably the biggest issue, with several of the out-of-focus backgrounds being the most notable culprits. This presence of grain never hampers the visual appeal of the image.

    Colours are remarkably well rendered, capturing the steamy grey/green of the tropical Vietnam countryside and the steamy and dingy underbelly of the city of Saigon in equal proportions. The only problem I could see was towards the latter half of the film when Michael Caine's face appeared to take on a slight reddish tinge. Maybe his character had enjoyed just one scotch too many.

    There are no compression artefacts and the only instance of aliasing is a very minor occurrence at 61:15 on some timber shutters. A handful of the most minute film artefacts were all I spotted, except for one annoying black scratch line which runs down the left hand side of the image at 61:24. It lasts for about a second and shows up quite clearly on Brendan Fraser's face.

    There are two sets of subtitles on this disc: English and English for the Hearing Impaired. I sampled the latter extensively and found them mostly accurate with only a couple of sentences abridged.

    The original disc was a single layered effort only, but this disc with its increased content is naturally enough a dual layered effort. The layer change occurs at 63:12, and is quite obvious but is placed on a scene change and therefore not too disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two audio soundtracks on this disc. The original and quite excellent English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at the higher bitrate of 448 Kb/s is now joined by a Dolby Digital 2.0 English commentary soundtrack. I listened to both. Overall, the main 5.1 surround soundtrack is a solid effort with clear channel separation and mostly excellent dialogue levels. The dialogue during a couple of the scenes suffers from being just a little too low, especially when Fowler and Pyle are whispering in the watchtower. There are no audio sync problems.

    The subtle score is by Craig Armstrong and captures the essence of Vietnam and the inner turmoil of the characters.

    This isn't the sort of film which requires excessive surround channel use, but when the surround channels are used, it is in a subtle and understated way, which is often the best way of doing it. Simply filling in the streetscapes or providing just enough ambience to envelop the viewer is the way surrounds should be used. Check out examples at 24:10, 28:30-29:15 during a military attack, and during the end climax around the 80:00 minute mark. The subwoofer is also used sparingly, and much like the surround channels when it is used, it is seamlessly merged into the overall sound mix. A couple of explosions at 63:46 are when it comes into its own.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Introduction

Menu Audio

Audio Commentary

    A comprehensive commentary track featuring many of the principal crew and a couple of the cast. It is not at all screen-specific but again proves that these things don't need to be in order to be entertaining and informative. The commentary participants are not together, but rather all their individual comments have been edited together to provide a reasonably coherent and flowing commentary. Participants are: director Phillip Noyce, cast members Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Tzi Ma, Executive Producer Sydney Pollack, Producers Staffan Ahrenberg and William Horberg, co-writer Christopher Hampton and translator Tran An Hua. The commentary opens with a 20 minute history of the French and American occupation of Vietnam and the ensuing war from Director Phillip Noyce. We then hear from all the other players in turn, with all of them adding their own thoughts on the film, the history of the country, and the adaptation of the famous Graham Greene novel. The only negative is the volume at which Brendan Fraser's comments have been recorded. Coupled with his very quiet speaking voice, you will need to crank this right up to make him audible.

Featurette - Anatomy of a Scene

    This is the now quite common Sundance channel making-of featurette called Anatomy of a Scene. This one runs for 22:06. After a brief introduction to the film, the featurette focuses on the horrific Saigon bombing scene where Thomas Fowler becomes involved in the Vietnam situation for the first time. Topics covered for this scene include the cinematography, the location, and the acting.


    Labelled simply as an Original Featurette, this 5:20 minute piece is basically just a promotional semi behind-the-scenes glimpse of the film with a couple of very brief snippets of interviews with the main cast and crew overlaid with plenty of image taken directly from the film.

Notes - Vietnam Timeline

    Probably the best example of a historical timeline that I have encountered. This provides a brief, but straight-to-the-point snapshot of the last 50 years of the struggles of Vietnam, all in a beautifully presented interface with rolling graphics and background music. The only criticism I'd make is the lack of any acknowledgement of the forces other than Americans who died in the conflict. If I'm not mistaken, 503 Australians lost their lives in this war in addition to the 58,015 Americans.

Notes - Book Reviews of The Quiet American

    Three separate book reviews of the Graham Green novel upon which this film is based, originally published back in the 1950s, have been recreated here with nice clear, large and easily read text.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 disc is exactly the same as the Region 4 version.


    The Quiet American is a remarkable film when one stops to consider just how complex a tale is woven in less than 90 minutes. An indication of a perfectly crafted film if ever there was, unburdened by the many excesses that seem to attach themselves to many modern-day blockbusters. Michael Caine is excellent (as always), as the world-weary journalist only partially intent on finding the flaws in others while trying to conceal his own shortcomings of character.

    The video and audio quality are excellent, with only minor imperfections in the video.

    The extras are solid and of high quality, especially the very informative commentary track.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Sunday, January 18, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews
AllZone4DVD - Toan B

Comments (Add) NONE