A 'Quiet' Oscar contender

Everything about "The Quiet American" is good, except its timing.

Based on Graham Greene's richly intelligent 1955 novel, the movie deals with terrorism, international strife, and the uses and abuses of American power.

Nothing could be more timely, and that's apparently a problem. The film was headed for theaters when the tragedies of Sept. 11 struck, making distributors wary of potentially sensitive material. Miramax delayed its release and reportedly decided to mute its publicity campaign. Its belated opening is this week, and viewers should do everything they can to seek it out.

Michael Caine plays a British journalist covering the early stages of the Vietnam War, when French forces struggled to preserve the longtime colony from Communist rule. Brendan Fraser plays an American who claims he's on a charity mission but is really scheming to help a renegade Vietnamese general win control. Their political disagreements are complicated by a personal clash when the American declares love for the Englishman's mistress.

Phillip Noyce's movie pares away the novel's meditations on the futility of war and the importance of religion. It retains the book's thoughtful blending of psychological and moral issues, however, and shows how well-meaning people can bring disaster through blind faith in the virtuousness of their ideas.

It's a pity this first-rate drama isn't being released with the fanfare it deserves. But if audiences embrace it, there's a strong chance its visibility will be boosted by the coming Oscar race, where Caine and Fraser deserve to be frontline contenders.

Rated R; contains sex, violence, and drug use.

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