The 4th Man

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Release Date: March 24, 1983
Runtime: 102 minutes
Rating: Unrated (closer to R)
Studio: International Spectrafilm / Anchor Bay Entertainment
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Jeroen Krabbé; Renée Soutendijk; Thom Hoffman; Dolf de Vries; Geert de Jong

It’s only fitting that a movie review site called The 4th Reel review a movie called “The 4th Man,” so here goes!

A virtual blueprint for his later, more mainstream potboiler “Basic Instinct,” “The 4th Man” exhibits all of the elements of director Paul Verhoeven’s mode of outrageous storytelling that has made him one of the most audacious film directors working today.

This one is stamped Verhoeven all-around: the icy blonde, the tortured author, the lethal dagger, the bisexuality, the fast cars….there are so many parallels to “Basic Instinct” (one of my all-time favorite movies, by the way) that they’re difficult to count. It’s almost as though he saw in “BI” an opportunity to make an even more outlandish version of “The 4th Man.” I loved it…loved every twisted, depraved minute of it.

It starts out weird and just gets weirder…David Lynch would be so proud! Gerard Reve (Verhoeven regular, Jeroen Krabbé) is a famous author in the William S. Burroughs vein who has been commissioned to deliver a lecture at a literature club somewhere outside of Amsterdam. At the train station magazine kiosk, the sexually ambiguous Gerard spies a young hottie (Thom Hoffman) and unsuccessfully tries to catch him before said hottie’s train departs. Oh well! We’ve all been there, honey!

Later that night at the lecture, Gerard can’t help but notice a beautiful blonde videotaping him (pre-iPhone days…love!). She is Christine Halsslag (Renée Soutendijk), the organization’s treasurer. As all icy blondes in film noir’s such as this do, she invites Gerard back to her place instead of the hotel they’ve booked for him and, of course, they share a very pleasant evening. Turns out Christine is a widower, a very rich widower (is there any other kind?), who has been bequeathed a successful seaside beauty salon by her late husband. Snooping around Christine’s home (it’s attached to the salon) one morning, Gerard comes across some papers on a desk and, lo and behold, there is a postcard with a picture of the same young hottie from the train station! SCORE! The wily author pries it out of Christine and ascertains that the hottie (his name is Herman) is her current lover, but that he lives some distance away in Germany. Well, Gerard makes it his damned mission to coax Christine into inviting Herman over to the house for a stay. Cue finger pyramid of evil contemplation.

I don’t want to veer into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that once Herman arrives at the house, the truth regarding Christine begins to emerge and, as it happens in movies like this, she’s not, that, innocent.

The movie itself is really just a framework from which Verhoeven entertains both secular and religious symbolism and indulges his signature stylistic flourishes. The opening credits, for example, display under extreme close-ups of a spider trapping its prey, one of many instances of foreshadowing. Verhoeven likes to toy with religious symbolism throughout, featuring a Madonna/whore archetype (Christine, who is cut from the same Hitchcockian cloth as “Basic Instinct’s” Catherine Tramell), a Virgin Mary stand-in (Ria), countless interactions with death (a major set piece takes place in a cemetery), plus a truly strange scene in a chapel where Gerard has a masturbatory hallucination of Herman on the cross, a la Jesus. It’s these kinds of over-the-top touches that have cemented Verhoeven’s reputation as a take-no-prisoners filmmaker. You can see it in all of his work, from the early “Business is Business” with the truly out-there fetishism to the more contemporary ultra-violence of “Starship Troopers.” The extremes to which Verhoeven fearlessly dares to go are what make him such a dynamic and fascinating filmmaker, a true cinematic artist. And “The 4th Man” is undeniably his.

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