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…
Frederick 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.
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.
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.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed 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