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De Vierde Man (The Fourth Man) (The 4th Man) Reviews

Page 1 of 6
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

August 20, 2013
It's a commonly held belief that Paul Verhoeven's Dutch language work is better than his later Hollywood efforts. It's certainly easy to misconstrue things in this regard, if we take Showgirls or Hollow Man as a yardstick against the likes of Spetters and Soldier of Orange. But perhaps the most illuminating comparison is with The Fourth Man, a 'spiritual prequel' to Basic Instinct which edges out over its State-side companion in almost every way.

Mark Kermode in his review of Black Book described The Fourth Man as "a trial run for Basic Instinct", and he wasn't far wide of the mark. Both films, loosely speaking, have the same plot: a maverick male protagonist falls in love with a dangerous woman, whom it transpires is a serial murderer of the people she loves. Both the femme fatales in question are blonde, both employ sharp objects (whether scissors or an ice pick), and both exhibit sociopathic tendencies. There are some differences - the man and woman's occupation, the setting, the overall style - but you could connect the character arcs together without much hassle.

Both films are also discernably made by the same man. They are indulgent, upfront if not celebratory of nudity, unabashed about their subject matter and have some degree of religious subtext or symbolism. The crucial difference, however, is one of emphasis. Basic Instinct emphasises the teasing, destructive nature of its heroine: it's centrally an erotic thriller, with the man being unable to help himself against strong feminine wiles. The Fourth Man, on the other hand, emphasises the mental disintegration of its male protagonist. It's a psychological horror in the vein of Angel Heart, with one foot in the history of film noir.

Both of the film's main protagonists are deeply rooted in film noir and by extension pulp fiction. Gerard Reve is a trashy novelist, unkempt in appearance and with an unhealthy taste for drink. His hair is greasy, his clothing shabby and he doesn't really care what anybody thinks of him so long as he can do his job. He serves as the unreliable narrator in the absence of a detective character, while Christine is our femme fatale, equal parts victim and villain, and completely irresistible to our hero.

But rather than just lean on these archetypes for the sake of pulpy fun, Verhoeven looks at these conventions in a more advanced and naturalistic way. He could just set up Reve as an unreliable narrator with a grim voiceover and lots of slow shots of him drinking, writing and moping on trains. Instead we get Reve's lecture, in which he spins his audience a yarn and then reveals how much is real and how much is his fabrication. His wry comment that he "lies the truth" sets up both his archetype and much of the film's ambiguity, and all the while the story feels distinctive.

Having given us this ambiguity, Verhoeven launches into a full-blown examination of religious paranoia. When interviewed in 2011, he argued that Christian belief and practice has a tendency to resemble black magic and the occult. Christians, he argued, were so obsessed with "scrambling to rationalise their chaotic existence" that their behaviour was akin to schizophrenia, and he wanted to play with the idea of religion being grounded in violence (e.g. the crucifixion).

Whether you agree with Verhoeven's viewpoint or not (I'm firmly in the latter camp), the notion does make for a very effective thriller. It raises all manner of interesting questions about fate, predestination, evil and temptation, while also having fun playing with familiar symbols and indulging in a little surrealism. The comparison with Angel Heart is a fitting one, since both are unapologetic in their heady and intoxicating imagery, with theological accuracy taking a back seat to ambiguity and primal fear.

First and foremost, the film plays with the old idea of religion being a coping mechanism for people who fear death. Like Gene Hackman's character in The Conversation, Reve is a lapsed Catholic who clings onto certain symbols and images (mainly the Virgin Mary) out of morbid fear for his wellbeing and sanity. He is perfectly happy to drink, swear, and sleep with men and women without a second thought, but the second that his life is threatened, he becomes a quivering wreck. His faith is being crushed or overshadowed by a more powerful evil, slowly covering everything, like the spider's web on the crucifix in the opening shot.

Because Reve's mindset is so carefree and unstable, The Fourth Man gives us very little to ground us in one particularly version of events. Reve's visions are incredibly vivid and surreal, but there is no break in visual aesthetic to differentiate a dream from reality, like in Spellbound or The Conversation. Not only can we not trust our protagonist, but we cannot rely on our own senses to guide us, and that makes the experience all the more terrifying.

This also allows the film to succeed where Basic Instinct ultimately fell short, in making its female antagonist genuinely ambiguous. There was never really any doubt that Catherine Tramell was the killer; all her more sensitive scenes and the implication of Beth were just an ineffective smokescreen.

Here, on the other hand, we find ourselves genuinely in doubt about Christine. Is she a ruthless murderess, or a broken victim? The film is replete with recurring images which suggest her wicked nature - spiders being the most effective example - and yet we find ourselves dismissing them as our own paranoia even as evil surrounds us. Even when Reve discovers the tapes of her other husbands, in a gender reversal of Peeping Tom, we cannot completely trust Reve and therefore remain in two minds.

One of the big themes of The Fourth Man is predestination. Verhoeven has a great deal of fun foreshadowing the deaths of his characters, the most gruesome being Herman's death in the car accident. There's a fair amount of graphic violence, including a scene involving scissors which gives Hard Candy a run for its money. But Verhoeven does do the hard work in giving the violence meaning, driving home the abiding threat of Christine and making us question to what extent such events were unavoidable.

Much like Don't Look Now (another film that explored predestination), The Fourth Man's colour palette is dominated by red. Jan de Bont's directorial career may have left a lot to be desired, but he remains one of the best cinematographers ever to come out of continental Europe. The film is brilliantly shot with a huge variety of shades and textures being captured, from the smooth sheen of Christine's lipstick to the thick matte blood on the victims' bodies.

There are a couple of problems with The Fourth Man. It is deeply contrived, which is in one sense inevitable: there is so much predestination and foreshadowing that it will take a lot of suspension of disbelief for the plot to work without question. There is also the issue of animal cruelty regarding the opening credits, which feature a spider crawling along a web and devouring flies. Assuming that the spider was trained in some way, to achieve the size and shape of web needed for a given shot, it is rather uncomfortable to watch a real-life killing on screen.

The Fourth Man is a gripping and thought-provoking thriller which finds Verhoeven in sound mind while having a lot of fun. Its vivid cinematography and nuanced examination of ideas are balanced by a witty script and great performances by Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk. Verhoeven's best work remains Soldier of Orange, but this is still a very fine film, which offers brains on top of its frequent flesh.
Pierluigi P

Super Reviewer

September 2, 2007
Eros and Thanatos are always present in the oeuvre of Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven. Even if sometimes gets a little too excessive or gratuitous in his portrait of sexuality and crude imagery, he manages to sustain tension and a twisted comedic touch. I deeply enjoy being submerged in a demented artist's mind.
Ken S

Super Reviewer

May 15, 2007
The German Body Heat with a Brunel-esque twist. Amazing cinematography by Jan de Bont
jjnxn
jjnxn

Super Reviewer

February 18, 2009
wonderfully atmospheric, excellent performances, and an odd compelling story make this eminently watchable.
July 11, 2013
Verhoeven's The Fourth Man is actually a very cool flick. It's interesting how overt symbolism of the plot hides the symbolism of the theme. Very clever. RECOMMENDED.
May 22, 2012
Funny and creepy worked together for a strange little supernatural/noir/mystery/horror film. Compelling on multiple levels.
TonyPolito
November 17, 2010
Clearly source material for, and strong influence toward, "Basic Instinct." The last Dutch film from Verhoeven (also the director of "Total Recall," "Showgirls," and "Robocop") before his successful exodus to Hollywood.

A 30ish Amsterdam writer of fiction who holds some degree of religious fervor (Krabbe) awakens with a healthy case of the DTs, reaches for a shaky swig of breakfast vino, contemplates killing his live-in boyfriend, then sets off for an out-of-town speaking engagement.

As the journey evolves, Krabbe increasingly drifts through a hodge-podge of strange, disjointed experiences that may be real, may be alcoholic visions, may be his imagining of his next novel - or may even be supernatural premonitions of impending doom.

Krabbe eventually stumbles into an attractive, icy and sexually-forward blonde hairdresser (Soutendijk). Krabbe, apparently having not viewed nearly enough Hitchcock, allows Soutendijk, who wields a sharp pair of scissors with ready ease, to start subtly weaving a Black Widow's web about him.

Based upon its limited availability, this film appears to be quite the sleeper. Verhoeven provides his usual style of commentary, mostly describing what the viewer already sees & knows, only slightly peppered with information regarding the film's references, homages and backstories.

The film merits several viewings toward alternative interpretations of its reality. Contains a small amount of full frontal male and female content - as well as some religious imagery that some viewers may find offensive and/or blasphemous.

RECOMMENDATION: Primarily for fans of "Basic Instinct," Hitchcockian-styled suspense films and/or the puzzle-film genre.
February 28, 2014
The script gives out about 20 minutes before the end but it's still great dirty fun.
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

August 20, 2013
It's a commonly held belief that Paul Verhoeven's Dutch language work is better than his later Hollywood efforts. It's certainly easy to misconstrue things in this regard, if we take Showgirls or Hollow Man as a yardstick against the likes of Spetters and Soldier of Orange. But perhaps the most illuminating comparison is with The Fourth Man, a 'spiritual prequel' to Basic Instinct which edges out over its State-side companion in almost every way.

Mark Kermode in his review of Black Book described The Fourth Man as "a trial run for Basic Instinct", and he wasn't far wide of the mark. Both films, loosely speaking, have the same plot: a maverick male protagonist falls in love with a dangerous woman, whom it transpires is a serial murderer of the people she loves. Both the femme fatales in question are blonde, both employ sharp objects (whether scissors or an ice pick), and both exhibit sociopathic tendencies. There are some differences - the man and woman's occupation, the setting, the overall style - but you could connect the character arcs together without much hassle.

Both films are also discernably made by the same man. They are indulgent, upfront if not celebratory of nudity, unabashed about their subject matter and have some degree of religious subtext or symbolism. The crucial difference, however, is one of emphasis. Basic Instinct emphasises the teasing, destructive nature of its heroine: it's centrally an erotic thriller, with the man being unable to help himself against strong feminine wiles. The Fourth Man, on the other hand, emphasises the mental disintegration of its male protagonist. It's a psychological horror in the vein of Angel Heart, with one foot in the history of film noir.

Both of the film's main protagonists are deeply rooted in film noir and by extension pulp fiction. Gerard Reve is a trashy novelist, unkempt in appearance and with an unhealthy taste for drink. His hair is greasy, his clothing shabby and he doesn't really care what anybody thinks of him so long as he can do his job. He serves as the unreliable narrator in the absence of a detective character, while Christine is our femme fatale, equal parts victim and villain, and completely irresistible to our hero.

But rather than just lean on these archetypes for the sake of pulpy fun, Verhoeven looks at these conventions in a more advanced and naturalistic way. He could just set up Reve as an unreliable narrator with a grim voiceover and lots of slow shots of him drinking, writing and moping on trains. Instead we get Reve's lecture, in which he spins his audience a yarn and then reveals how much is real and how much is his fabrication. His wry comment that he "lies the truth" sets up both his archetype and much of the film's ambiguity, and all the while the story feels distinctive.

Having given us this ambiguity, Verhoeven launches into a full-blown examination of religious paranoia. When interviewed in 2011, he argued that Christian belief and practice has a tendency to resemble black magic and the occult. Christians, he argued, were so obsessed with "scrambling to rationalise their chaotic existence" that their behaviour was akin to schizophrenia, and he wanted to play with the idea of religion being grounded in violence (e.g. the crucifixion).

Whether you agree with Verhoeven's viewpoint or not (I'm firmly in the latter camp), the notion does make for a very effective thriller. It raises all manner of interesting questions about fate, predestination, evil and temptation, while also having fun playing with familiar symbols and indulging in a little surrealism. The comparison with Angel Heart is a fitting one, since both are unapologetic in their heady and intoxicating imagery, with theological accuracy taking a back seat to ambiguity and primal fear.

First and foremost, the film plays with the old idea of religion being a coping mechanism for people who fear death. Like Gene Hackman's character in The Conversation, Reve is a lapsed Catholic who clings onto certain symbols and images (mainly the Virgin Mary) out of morbid fear for his wellbeing and sanity. He is perfectly happy to drink, swear, and sleep with men and women without a second thought, but the second that his life is threatened, he becomes a quivering wreck. His faith is being crushed or overshadowed by a more powerful evil, slowly covering everything, like the spider's web on the crucifix in the opening shot.

Because Reve's mindset is so carefree and unstable, The Fourth Man gives us very little to ground us in one particularly version of events. Reve's visions are incredibly vivid and surreal, but there is no break in visual aesthetic to differentiate a dream from reality, like in Spellbound or The Conversation. Not only can we not trust our protagonist, but we cannot rely on our own senses to guide us, and that makes the experience all the more terrifying.

This also allows the film to succeed where Basic Instinct ultimately fell short, in making its female antagonist genuinely ambiguous. There was never really any doubt that Catherine Tramell was the killer; all her more sensitive scenes and the implication of Beth were just an ineffective smokescreen.

Here, on the other hand, we find ourselves genuinely in doubt about Christine. Is she a ruthless murderess, or a broken victim? The film is replete with recurring images which suggest her wicked nature - spiders being the most effective example - and yet we find ourselves dismissing them as our own paranoia even as evil surrounds us. Even when Reve discovers the tapes of her other husbands, in a gender reversal of Peeping Tom, we cannot completely trust Reve and therefore remain in two minds.

One of the big themes of The Fourth Man is predestination. Verhoeven has a great deal of fun foreshadowing the deaths of his characters, the most gruesome being Herman's death in the car accident. There's a fair amount of graphic violence, including a scene involving scissors which gives Hard Candy a run for its money. But Verhoeven does do the hard work in giving the violence meaning, driving home the abiding threat of Christine and making us question to what extent such events were unavoidable.

Much like Don't Look Now (another film that explored predestination), The Fourth Man's colour palette is dominated by red. Jan de Bont's directorial career may have left a lot to be desired, but he remains one of the best cinematographers ever to come out of continental Europe. The film is brilliantly shot with a huge variety of shades and textures being captured, from the smooth sheen of Christine's lipstick to the thick matte blood on the victims' bodies.

There are a couple of problems with The Fourth Man. It is deeply contrived, which is in one sense inevitable: there is so much predestination and foreshadowing that it will take a lot of suspension of disbelief for the plot to work without question. There is also the issue of animal cruelty regarding the opening credits, which feature a spider crawling along a web and devouring flies. Assuming that the spider was trained in some way, to achieve the size and shape of web needed for a given shot, it is rather uncomfortable to watch a real-life killing on screen.

The Fourth Man is a gripping and thought-provoking thriller which finds Verhoeven in sound mind while having a lot of fun. Its vivid cinematography and nuanced examination of ideas are balanced by a witty script and great performances by Jeroen Krabbé and Renée Soutendijk. Verhoeven's best work remains Soldier of Orange, but this is still a very fine film, which offers brains on top of its frequent flesh.
July 23, 2012
Sountendjik plays it so cool that it's flawless, but in an uninteresting way. The beginning is really great, but there doesn't seem to be a single shocking revelation in the whole film, everything is revealed in the first half. And the ending is overly hurried. While the film looks awesome and there is pretty good dialogue, it just loses tension by the time it should really get going. One of those flicks that promise loads but deliver a bit too little. Baybe as an 80's kid I would be all over it.
sherry9lee
January 6, 2011
Nobody can create such a chilling athmosphere like Paul Verhoeven. It's amazing how he manages to captivate the viewer.

Some of you may recognise his name from movies like Basic Instinct, Show Girls, Total Recall, Hollow Man, RoboCop ect. But not many has discovered his earlier dutch movies, which are one of a kind.

Characteristic for Verhoeven's style is like mentioned earlier, that chilling athmosphere created with long takes with suiting music, lots of religious imagery, unstable main characters, and explicit sex scenes.

I really love the way Verhoeven "plays" with us watchers. It's all through the movie suggested that the main character is going to be stabbed with a pair of scissors...

*An alcoholic writer, Gerard Reve, suffers from distrurbing hallucinations that he will soon die, or be killed, to be more specific. Stabbed with a pair of scissors.
Conveniently, he meets a mysterious blonde woman who is a hair dresser.*

The blonde femme fatale is an element that feels very classic. The deadly blonde.
zach.seely
May 21, 2007
I wonder if I just want this director to be smarter than I he actually is. Still this is a great movie. Imagine if Bergman and Hitchcock made a movie. This is it. I think this is God's first return to film as a spider.
CaptainKronos
July 23, 2006
[font=Times New Roman][size=3]I don't know if I'd consider it a masterpiece of not, but it's damn near close; it's extremely well made, artistic, suspenseful, intricately plotted, thematically challenging and full of bleak foreshadowing and sexual-religious imagery. I guarantee I won't soon forget it. There's also some great camerawork from [b]Jan de Bont[/b], an atmospheric score from [b]Loek Dikker[/b] and outstanding acting from [b]Jeroen Krabbé[/b] and, especially, [b]Renée Soutendijk[/b], giving one of the most sneaky, subtle 'femme fatale' performance I've ever seen. Like many other European movies, this movie has an unashamed, non-judgmental attitude toward sex, nudity and the complexities of sexuality and has zero reservations about mixing it all up with religious, surrealistic (some would say blasphemous) images. In other words, if you can't bear the thought of seeing a lust-driven homosexual envisioning the object of his carnal desire as Jesus crucified on the cross before the two of them go at it inside a cemetery crypt then this might not be the movie for you. What surprised me more is how this bizarre movie managed to dodge being a pretentious mess. It mixes the abstract/surreal/parallel fantasy-reality scenes and makes it all work. Like any good mystery, you can see the pieces slowly falling into place as the movie progresses. There is not an out-of-left-field resolution. The movie has direction, there's no needless filler and once it concludes, you begin to understand the purpose of what may have confused you earlier. If you like the work of [b]Ken Russell[/b] and [b]David Lynch[/b], I can almost guarantee you will like this movie. Hell, if you have no idea who they even are, you still might like it.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]I'm not going to spoil the plot any, but the film's opening shot - through a web as a spider catches its prey - sets the stage as Krabbé, as unshaven, smug, bisexual writer Gerard Reve (interestingly, also the name of the writer whose novel this is based on) crosses paths with a wealthy, mysterious, sexy woman named Christine (Soutendijk, whose melding of androgynous stylings with Simone Simon-like innocence/cuteness is pretty unnerving), who may be a literal 'black widow' responsible for the deaths of her three previous husbands. The two become lovers and move in with one another, but we're led to believe (through Christine's bizarre behavior and the frequent appearances of another woman [[b]Geert de Jong[/b]], who may or may not actually exist) something terrible is boiling under the surface. When another of Christine's lovers, the young and "beautiful" Herman ([b]Thom Hoffman[/b]), shows up at the house, things take an unexpected turn. And that's all you need to know.[/size][/font]

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]THE 4TH MAN was a huge art-house success in much of the world, but didn't make it over to the US until 1984, where it was awarded the Best Foreign Film of the year from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The most common video in the Media release, which has been horribly dubbed. Try to avoid that one and head straight for the newer subtitled Anchor Bay DVD release. Since coming to America, Verhoeven's career has had its ups and downs. He has made a few decent films ([i]Flesh & Blood[/i] and [i]RoboCop[/i]) and some lousy ones (one word: [i]Showgirls[/i]). In fact, Verhoeven's big hit [i]Basic Instinct[/i] is almost like a less interesting, junior league version of The Fourth Man. Soutendjik also tried her hand at acting in America and since GRAVE SECRETS (1989) and EVE OF DESTRUCTION (1991) were the best offers she was getting, she headed right back home to the Netherlands.[/size][/font]
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