The 4th Man, aka De Vierde Man is Paul Verhoeven's 6th film and would be the last one he made in his own country of Holland until his triumphant return over 20 years later with Black Book. It is also the first of his films that we come to that I had already seen as it was shown once on Channel 4 in the mid 90's. I couldn't remember that much about it other than finding it disappointing and rather pointless. I did remember that it was an erotic thriller, maybe similar to Basic Instinct. As it turned out, my memory was wrong.
The 4th Man is a good film, but very unusual. Describing the story without giving anything away is difficult, but essentially Jeroen Krabbé stars as a bisexual author who meets and falls in love with Renée Soutendijk at a talk he is giving and sees an opportunity to get close to her ex-boyfriend who he secretly lusts after. He also has these weird dreams and visions, but what could they mean?
Like I said, The 4th Man is a very unusual film, which might be why I didn't like it much the first time I saw it. I also think it's because it wasn't the film I was expecting to see. I was looking forward to an erotic thriller in a similar vein to Verhoeven's own Basic Instinct, but instead got something completely different. On second viewing, remembering my disappointment, I watched it with different expectations and enjoyed it considerably more. It is a film where a lot can be left to interpretation as the film deals with one man's dreams and visions. How he interprets them is not necessarily the correct way of interpreting them.
There is a lot of religions symbolism in the film, and not just within the dream sequences. The film begins with a close up image of a spider killing a fly and wrapping it in it's web that's located on a cross. As is typical for Verhoeven, the symbolism is not very subtle, but it is a fantastic bit of footage. The film also features a mother playing with a long piece of apple peel, which forms a halo behind her son's head that is reminiscent of similar imagery in both Spetters and his next film, Flesh And Blood. The religious symbolism was a deliberate reaction on Verhoeven's part to the criticism of his previous film, Spetters, and is something that he returns to in his subsequent films.
This is the first film since his début not to feature Rutger Hauer, although he does star in Verhoeven's next film, Flesh And Blood. Despite that, it does reunite him with both Jeroen Krabbé from Soldier Of Orange and Spetters, as well as Renée Soutendijk, also from Spetters. Krabbé is excellent here after finally being given a starring role, coming across a slightly slimy, troubled and maybe just a little insane, although we could have done without the full frontal male nudity at the start of the film where Krabbé gets out of bed wearing just a t-shirt, but you come to expect that in Verhoeven films.
Even Jan De Bont, returning to Verhoeven for the first time since Keetje Tippel does a great job with the cinematography. Finally showing some of the talent that would allow him to shoot the classic Die Hard before going on to direct the equally classic Speed. Shame that his directing jobs after Speed help prove that was more of a fluke than genuine directing talent. With The 4th Man, he does a great job of lighting both the dream sequences with an almost surreal tint, and the real sequences in a more natural light. For a film about dreams and visions, there is some startling imagery in this film, the most memorable involves an eye hole in a door.
I really enjoyed this film on second viewing, and suspect I will enjoy it even more if I watch it again as certain moments of symbolism will make more sense to me. For some reason, I keep likening it to Hitchcock's Vertigo, but am not sure why as it is a very different kind of film. I think it's because the more often you watch it, the more you notice about it, highlighting some of the complexities bubbling under the surface.
IMDB gives this film 7.3, which is again quite accurate. As it is Verhoeven, it is not a film that will be enjoyed by everyone, and on first viewing, you may find yourself frustrated by it, but it is technically well done, and rewards multiple viewings.