Directed by Phillip Noyce, starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser and Do Thi Hai Yen.

Best known as director of 'Dead Calm', 'Patriot Games' and Sharon Stone fiasco flick 'Sliver', Phillip Noyce could presumably have settled into some middle aged comfort zone and stuck to the multiplex fare for the rest of his career. But his two latest - shot back to back - films, 'Rabbit Proof Fence' and 'The Quiet American', show a director who still wants to take some risks, and while this take on Graham Greene's prophetic novel could have been more forceful, it's still an all-too timely reminder that history repeats itself.

Set in 1952, Caine plays Fowler, a London Times correspondent covering the conflict in Vietnam. But the story - or the fact that he's losing his soul in ever-increasing increments - doesn't move Fowler as much as the escape the country offers in the form of his beautiful mistress Phuong (Yen). That is until aid worker Alden Pyle (Fraser) enters his world.

Young, idealistic and American, Pyle's views on a Third Force - not communism or colonialism - curing Vietnam of its ills seem to barely register with Fowler but the attention he directs towards Phuong does. And as the relationship between the two men deepens, so too does Fowler's distrust of his new friend - and he begins to understand that for Pyle perhaps the prize isn't Phuong but Vietnam itself.

Caine has been tipped for an Oscar nomination for his role and if he does receive one it will be a remarkable turnaround for a film that looked destined to get stuck in some studio limbo post 11 September. While Joseph L Mankiewicz's contentious 1958 version diluted Greene's criticisms of American policy, Noyce brings them back in. The result is a film that is far more effective politically than it is emotionally.

What Caine lacks here is strong enough support to spark off. Fraser is suitably preppy as Pyle but the role is more complicated than what he brings to it. Yen as the love interest fares even worse. She seems little more than a symbol of the shift of power from England to the US and one of the most uneven aspects of the film is that there are very few scenes between her character and Fraser's.

Yet despite these failings, Noyce hits home in his depiction of the hazy atmosphere of Vietnam and Fowler's growing ability to see through it. The sense of danger in 'The Quiet American' is never enough to make you swallow hard but observing Fowler's realisation that he has to make a stand is deeply compelling. That his motives are not pure only serves to reinforce the theme that everyone here is a loser. But then, the ability to do the right thing for the right reasons was, is and always will be in short supply.

Harry Guerin