Ever since 1995, when Philip Noyce had opened Graham Greene’s novel ”The Quiet American” to alleviate a slow train ride through Vietnam, the director had been obsessed with Greene’s graceful, pungent tale of an English reporter locking horns with a callow Yankee diplomat on the cusp of U.S. intervention in Vietnam.
With Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser finally lined up for the leads after Noyce had spent half a decade struggling to get backing for the film, he knew he needed to move fast — or risk losing his opportunity. Days after wrapping ”Rabbit-Proof Fence” in Australia, he flew to Vietnam to shoot ”American.” ”I can tell you that making ‘The Quiet American’ on a $33 million budget in a nation that hasn’t seen a Western film like this ever in history is no small feat,” Fraser says. ”The scope of that rivals any quote-unquote big Hollywood film. It took a brigadier general to go in and get this job done, and that’s who Phillip Noyce is.”
”American” is an explicit critique of the U.S. government’s habit of trying to ”fix” things in foreign countries, and that became a touchy subject during the uprush of patriotism that followed Sept. 11. As a result, Noyce became so apprehensive about the film’s potentially controversial viewpoint that he stayed away from the Toronto Film Festival for the first press screening; he was stunned when he heard about standing ovations.
”I thought it was just publicity people saying nice things,” he says. Then Miramax announced it would release ”American” in November, and pretty soon the publicity people were saying nice things that’d never really been said about Phillip Noyce, like ”Oscar.” Noyce had discovered the music of chance. Or, as Michael Caine puts it, ”He’s rediscovered himself.”