The Fourth Protocol

movie still

Director: John Mackenzie
Screenwriter: George Axelrod
Starring: Michael Caine, Pierce Brosnan, Joanna Cassidy, Ned Beatty
Release details: Fourth Protocol Pictures, UK 1987, 114mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Cold war thriller
Rating: 8 out of 10

John Mackenzie directed one of the greatest British films of all time, The Long Good Friday, which coincidentally gave a first real break to a very young Pierce Brosnan. And while this film, based on a Frederick Forsyth novel, is not in the same exalted company as that film, it's certainly proof that Mackenzie is a director of some talent when he has the right cast and material, both of which he has here.

Now that he's Bond, it's easy to forget that Pierce Brosnan used to be quite an effective villian. Here, he's perfectly cast as the Russian officer sent to unleash a bomb on a US Army base in middle England so that the Soviets can destablise NATO by blaming the USA for an accidental tragedy. It may very well be the best performance of his career.

The scene in which Brosnan and Cassidy (surely one the screen's most under-rated and under-used actresses) assemble a bomb while indulging in passionate foreplay is a masterclass in tension of a few different kinds and allows Brosnan to show both sides of his apparently charming but ultimately coldly ruthless character.

Caine is his nemesis, John Preston, an MI6 agent feeling the pinch from younger, more politically astute, intelligence officers. Unlike Blue Ice and the two 1980s Palmer films, this is a realistic portrayal of a grown-up Harry Palmer: world-weary, with better instincts and more knowledge than any of his colleagues, but unable and unwilling to adapt to his employers' whims.


Poster © Universal Pictures

All among the top-notch cast never put a foot wrong: in addition to Cassidy's Russian agent, there are supporting players of the highest calibre in Ned Beatty as a soviet boss and the superb Ian Richardson as the head of MI6. Their job is, of course, made easier by the full characterisation in Alexrod's script, which never allows plot to drive character.

Plot-wise, there's nothing particularly new - we get double crosses, those at the sharp end on both sides being betrayed by politicians, car chases, all the Cold War staples - but it's just done so much better than other such thrillers that it's never less than enthralling.

External Reviews

The Fourth Protocol is first-rate because it not only is a thriller, but it also pays attention to its characters and shows how their actions grow out of their personalities... Roger Ebert


Kim Last (of the James Bond 007, OHMSS site) has two separate Brosnan-related sections: the Bond page and a Remington Steele site.

Other Pierce Brosnan sites: Remington Steele Gallery and