Tuesday 18 January 2022

Movie Review: The Fourth Protocol (1987)

A Cold War thriller, The Fourth Protocol features a slick bombing plot but weak characterizations and derivative details.

In London, MI5 agents John Preston (Michael Caine) and Sir Nigel Irvine (Ian Richardson) uncover government official Berenson as a spy. They turn him to feed false intelligence to Irvine's KGB rival Karpov (Ray McAnally). In the USSR, Karpov is not aware his power-hungry boss Govorshin (Alan North) has recruited agent Valeri Petrofsky (Pierce Brosnan) for a false flag mission to detonate an atomic bomb at a NATO base in the UK. Karpov eventually gets wind of the plan from his ally Borisov (Ned Beatty).

Petrofsky travels to the UK, rents an apartment near a NATO base, and starts to collect the bomb components from Soviet courier agents. Preston suspects a plot is unfolding when he intercepts a detonator and locates a Soviet communications hub on English soil transmitting suspicious messages. KGB agent Irina Vassilievna (Joanna Cassidy) arrives to help Petrofsky assemble the bomb, as Preston races to connect the dots.

Based on the book by Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol carries a threat and teases out admirable tactical details, but is essentially a distilled version of The Day Of The Jackal. Here Petrofsky is the silent assassin going about his business with grim-faced efficiency as his counterpoint Preston scrambles to gather clues. Despite expansive direction by John Mackenzie, making excellent use of dreary English locations, the action ticks by rather soullessly.

Apart from the title barely being explained, a central problem is Petrofsky's nominal role in his own plot. Deploying a singular glare, Pierce Brosnan is left stranded, his character hired to push a button and otherwise reduced to a courier zooming on his motorcycle this way then that to collect pieces of the bomb, but not even tasked with assembling the components. Petrofsky has to kill a few people to keep the plot on course, but most of his victims are extras.

Much better is John Preston, navigating the bureaucracy of the British secret service and dealing with a buffoon of a careerist boss (Julian Glover as a suitably despicable pencil pusher). Michael Caine never needs to stretch, but ensures sustained watchability as the political Cold War subtext is presented with potent urgency. Public opinion in Britain is portrayed as turning against militarization, and especially opposed to the deployment of American bombers equipped with nuclear weapons. Govorshin of course times the detonation to coincide with thousands of protesters gathering at the NATO base.

Serviceable but not quite notable, The Fourth Protocol offers adequate ticks and borrowed tocks.

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