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Can a war veteran survive when there is no war? Hardly so. And it is all the more difficult when there are two war heroes! Posted on each side of the Czech-West German border, US colonel Jack Knowles and his Soviet counterpart Colonel Valachev, have been champing at the bit since Gorbachev launched his Glasnost policy. Fortunately for them, a serious border incident (the killing of a defector) will allow them to resume war. A private war first, but a war that will involve a serious troop confrontation. Bad for Gorbachev, good for the two sworn enemies who had been craving for action... Written by
Roy Scheider takes on Jurgen Prochnow, his Russian opposite
"The Fourth War" features a deeper than usual script, excellent performances, and the customary sharp direction of John Frankenheimer. Roy Scheider is a tough army officer, a seasoned veteran and colonel from Vietnam. He's a hard nose. His boss is a general, played by Harry Dean Stanton. It's 1988 and the Cold War is winding down. The recruits are fresh-faced and inexperienced on both sides. Stanton has acclimated himself to the newer and less confrontational environment. Scheider has not, and wherever he is assigned he makes trouble. In this case, he's on the Czech-German border. His opposite is Jurgen Prochnow, a Russian colonel who likewise is a seasoned vet of Afghanistan.
Tim Reid is a lieutenant-colonel who has accommodated to the new army and always acts professionally. He doesn't let down his guard. He's a black man who went through West Point. His commitment to the army is less emotional and more to his career and not making waves. He's not combative as is Scheider. He's not as loose as Stanton and Scheider in sharing anecdotes or the camaraderie of older soldiers.
After seeing the Czech soldiers taunt and needlessly kill a man trying to cross the border, Scheider starts a mini-war by crossing over into Czech territory one night and doing a birthday prank. Subsequently, Prochnow responds unmistakably. The two of them are into their own private war. But this is very dangerous and can cause a confrontation between the two major powers, so Stanton has to try to restrain his pal Scheider. The one scene in which he upbraids Scheider is alone worth the price of admission.
Basically you have two grown up men who are playing childish games and cannot stop. Peace is not their bag. The question is raised as to whether or not the Stantons and Reids will prevail or whether the Scheiders and Prochnows will. The Cold War may end, but will peace really break out? Or will there be an uneasy kind of truce that will emerge that can fall back into hostile attitudes or a combination of hostility and cooperation? Mutual suspicions die hard.
The story has a comic aspect in their battle, especially emanating from Scheider's side. From Prochnow's side comes some plotting that gives the story more of a twist. In between the two is a girl played by Lara Harris in a subplot that adds interest to the story.
The film itself looks very authentic in all ways. It's set in the snow. Special effects are excellent. This is not a "big" war movie with a big cast or anything like that. It's a smaller movie, but well-fashioned. It accomplishes what it sets out to do, giving us a picture that is serious, comic and suspenseful all in one.
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