Having just watched the four James Bond films featuring Pierce Brosnan, it was actually quite refreshing to watch this and see what he’s like in a good spy film.
Based on a novel by former spy Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol is set in peak Cold War time, with a classic USSR vs UK/USA plot – not dissimilar to the Bond film Octopussy in fact – with a Russian agent smuggling a bomb to the West in order to destroy NATO (thus breaking the titular protocol).
Compared to the flashy gimmickry of a Bond film, this movie is quietly understated – no bangs or crashes, no laser watches or invisible cars. There’s not even a lot of dialogue.
Despite the low key nature of the movie, I found this far more engrossing than some of the recent Bond films I’ve watched. The slow pace reflects shows the some of the dull aspects of spying. The number of people engaged in the monitoring of the suspect British agent as he takes a short tube journey is impressive.
Brosnan is the Russian agent Major Valeri Petrofsky who has been selected for a special mission, and in comparison to his glib performance as Bond, in this film he has almost no dialogue, but manages to convey a greater sense of menace than he did in any of his Bond films. In this film, he kills at least three people, all in close quarters. His focus on his mission and his commitment to following orders is never in question.
In a nice touch, Brosnan’s British identity is Ross, James Ross. And in complete contrast to Bond, when his neighbour’s wife makes an obvious pass at him, he fobs her off.
You could imagine that on the back of seeing him in this film, the Bond producers would have been fairly confident in casting him as James Bond. (If only they’d hired some decent writers to come up with some decent plot lines and scripts.)
On the other side of the table we have Michael Caine as the British agent John Preston. He doesn’t follow orders, and it is his unsanctioned but ultimately useful action to track down an internal leak that sees him demoted to working on “Airports and Ports.” But it’s in this role he comes across a disc of polonium on a dead Russian sailor, something that could only be used to make a bomb, triggering his search for a Russian agent active in the country.
Preston’s character is established with heart, with instincts, in contrast to Petrofsky. Preston has a son he cares about, and his moral values are shown through his short sharp attack on skinhead thugs who were harassing a black woman on the Tube.
The slow pace of the film helps to draw you in, and although Petrofsky/Ross is a cold, cold character, I was almost admiring his cold-bloodedness and efficiency, compared to Preston’s haphazard and unplanned approach.
A worthwhile watch for anyone who was disappointed in the Pierce Brosnan Bond films.