Review: The Fourth Man (1983)

The Fourth Man (1983)

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven | 105 minutes | drama | Actors: Jeroen Krabbé, Renée Soutendijk, Thom Hoffman, Dolf de Vries, Geert de Jong, Hans Veerman, Hero Muller, Caroline de Beus, Reinout Bussemaker, Erik J. Meijer, Ursul de Geer, Filip Bolluyt, Hedda Lornie, Paul Nygaard, Guus van der Made, Pamela Teves, Hella Faassen, Hellen Hedy

‘The fourth man’ is a mediocre film from the impressive oeuvre of director Paul Verhoeven. The events of a renowned writer who becomes involved in a dangerous love affair are rarely captivating. The story is unclear, the actors are not good and there is an excess of symbolism.

Verhoeven’s film consists of many scenes that do much better in book form than on screen. It is very difficult to visualize something as large and elusive as human fantasy. In a book, on the other hand, the reader’s imagination is limitless. ‘The fourth man’ thus becomes a film that consists of small, incoherent events that do not lead to a beautiful whole.

In addition, the film suffers from an excess of symbolism. In this way it soon becomes clear in the story that Krabbé is a believer, although many of his actions do not bring him closer to the Lord: on the contrary! Verhoeven, however, overwhelms you with shots of religious symbols such as Jesus figures and crucifixes. Another obvious fact is Krabbé’s obsession with death. The constant references to funerals and coffins irritate over time.

Fortunately, there is an upward trend in the story. In itself it is great that Verhoeven turns a weak and bad start into a reasonable result. From the moment you discover who or what the fourth man is, a nice spectacle ensues, because then you finally know what all the previous nonsense was for. But then it’s too late.

What also doesn’t help, are the mediocre performances of the protagonists. Krabbé senior does his best, but is not convincing as a writer who cannot separate reality from fantasy. In addition, his preference for young men is very much on top, to the point of embarrassment. Renée Soutendijk comes out better as a mysterious femme fatale, while Thom Hoffman doesn’t impress as a macho who secretly tries gentlemen’s love. As icing on the cake, an ex-husband of Soutendijk turns out to be none other than Ursul de Geer, which does not yield any extra points for the film.

Fortunately, Verhoeven shows technically why he is one of the greatest Dutch film directors. His camera work is just good. The camera smoothly captures the actors and improves the quality of the film. The shots are neat, sometimes overly stylized, but that fits with material from the eighties. Aesthetically speaking, ‘The Fourth Man’ is even an impressive film, but a good film takes more.

Verhoeven’s last Dutch production, before he left for the United States, gets bogged down in a maze of mediocrity. The cast that isn’t sick is not an improvement either. ‘The fourth man’ is little more than loose sand and one of Paul Verhoeven’s lesser feature films.

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