Cold War Tensions Sizzle In “The Fourth Protocol”

Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan go head to head as East meets West in this cold war thriller based on Frederick Forsyth’s book The Fourth Protocol…

fourth-protocol_michael-caine_pierce-brosnan_movie-posterFrederick Forsyth’s novel The Fourth Protocol is brought to life by director John Mackenzie, who was responsible, most notably, for 1980’s Brit-gangster thriller The Long Good Friday. Starring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, Cold War tensions collide on British soil as a KGB assassin is sent to blow up a military airbase. Brosnan is the clinical KGB killer Petrofksy who finds MI5 agent John Preston (Caine) hot on his heels after the British agent finds top confidential NATO files have been leaked to the Soviet Union.

Forsyth’s twists and turns are smartly constructed on-screen by Mackenzie who favours a fast pace and slight-of-hand to logic or seriousness. This is perfectly framed by Caine’s ultra mild-mannered MI5 agent whose unflustered nature is entertainingly offset by a brawler’s mentality when called for. This is enjoyably highlighted when he takes on two unwitting National Front racists during a London Underground train journey. The thugs are left dazed and bloodied while Preston vacates the carriage as if he’s being enjoying the newspaper on a casual trip from A to B.

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While the British agent is easily rooted for, Brosnan’s Petrofsky is conversely terrifying. The killer’s lack of remorse is one thing but the cool, calculated method of his misdeeds shows intelligence beneath the monster making him a decidedly nasty proposition. Indeed, it is Brosnan’s performance that promotes The Fourth Protocol from being merely throwaway entertainment into something of substance.

That said, the film can never be taken too seriously. The KGB officers all have British and American accents making any suspension of disbelief difficult to digest. Indeed, when Ned Beatty shows up as Soviet agent Borisov speaking in his native Californian tongue, you have to be forgiven for forgetting which side of the Iron Curtain you’re watching. The only clue? That their names all end in –ski, -shin, or –ov. And, despite an undercurrent of sexual tension from Brosnan’s trained executioner (who certainly gives added meaning to the phrase “loaded weapon”), the subtext is rather lost and the ending surprisingly, and inconveniently, flaccid.

“…it is Brosnan’s performance that promotes The Fourth Protocol from being merely throwaway entertainment into something of substance…”

But The Fourth Protocol is undeniably entertaining. It’s great to see a film of this international scope filmed in England, particularly given the anaemic nature of the industry during the 1980s, while two British stars (one established as a true great, the other awaiting his stature to explode a few years later with James Bond) deliver the goods. It might be weaker than Forsyth’s much-celebrated The Day of the Jackal in cinematic terms, but it’ll still ignite those same fires in audiences who enjoy the writer’s work on-screen.

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Written by Dan Stephens

fourth-protocol_michael-caine_pierce-brosnan_movie-posterDirected by: John Mackenzie
Written by: George Axelrod
Starring: Michael Caine, Pierce Brosnan, Ned Beatty, Joanna Cassidy, Julian Glover

Released: 1987 / Genre: Thriller / Country: UK / IMDB

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Chris Reply

    Good review, Dan. Brosnan’s performance was indeed good. Even though it didn’t have a James Bond budget, it was still a pretty suspenseful spy thriller, especially the second half I liked, which had more action.
    It probably worked better when I was a kid, though. I began to notice the flaws when I saw it again as an adult. If I had to criticize something, I would say some of the dialogue in the beginning seems unnecessary and isn’t useful to the second part of the film.

  2. sidekickreviews Reply

    Great review Dan. I haven’t watched this or The Day of the Jackal yet. Brosnan’s character and performance sound really cool. I usually like spy thrillers so this might be up my alley.

  3. Evan Crean Reply

    I’ve never heard of this film, but it sounds awesome. I can’t even find it on Netflix either which makes me sad because now I want to watch it. Pierce Brosnan as KGB sounds kind of strange considering the man has been Bond, however I very much enjoyed him as the detached hitman in The Matador. That’s an underrated film.

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