The Fourth Angel
A Review by Mark McLeod
April 24th 2002
Jack Elgin (Jeremy Irons) is the editor in charge of the European bureau of a world class magazine. He lives in London with his family and is a self described workaholic. He and his family are about to take a much needed sailing vacation when the interview chance of a lifetime comes along. Under the disguise of a change in vacation plans the Elign clan heads off to India aboard a US flight. During their flight something goes wrong and the pilot has to land the plane at a nearby airport to have a mechanic perform a safety check. However at this stopover a group of terrorists calling themselves The August 15th Movement gain control of the plane. They demand 50 million American dollars for the hostages. The local government declines instead sending a number of military personnel over to the site to try and regain control by force. In the crossfire a number of innocent people are killed including Jack's wife and daughters. Jack's son Andrew (Joel Pitts) managed to escape harm as did Jack but their family will never be the same. As life begins to return to normal for the two Elgins back in London, Jack becomes increasingly frustrated that nothing is being done to the perpetrators of the crime. They have been released without charges from either the US or British authorities. Jack turns to a US embassy representative named Davidson (Jason Priestley) who tells him that while his hands are tied officially he may be able to provide information privately. Jack also turns to his friend Kate (Charlotte Rampling) to verify and provide supplemental information. Combining the information he get's from his sources Jack begins to exact his revenge on his family's murderers. However when these men begin to be killed a joint task force is setup and Agent Jules Bernard (Forest Whitaker) is assigned to the case. Before long Bernard is hot on Jack's case believing him to be the prime suspect despite his otherwise rock solid alibi.
"The Fourth Angel" is not so much a film dealing with terrorists but instead could be considered more of a commentary on the state of political affairs overseas in Europe. Director John Irvin (Hamburger Hill, City of Industry) takes a fairly simplistic story of one man's struggle for justice and set's it against a backdrop of political corruption. In the wake of the attacks of September 11th 2001, this film is even more fitting in that show's the length's one man will go to stand up for his beliefs. Terrorist and militia group attacks are a regular occurrence overseas and often nothing is done to the men who commit these crimes. The film takes on a thriller style but suffers slightly from this approach as things seem to come far too easily. I'd have to think that locating these criminals would presented some sort of challenge but apparently that isn't the case. Irvin set's up the framework nicely by introducing the audience to secondary characters that Jack will use to gain information but we never see them actually giving Jack the information. So it appears as if he's pulling the location of the criminals hideouts out of the sky. Also working against the film is it's screenplay by Alan Scott which is based on Robin Hunter's novel "Angel". Scott's screenplay is simply by the book and doesn't take any chances in turn making the entire film seem utterly predictable.
The cast assembled for "The Fourth Angel" consists of a number of talented actors led by Jeremy Irons who was last scene in a memorable cameo role in "The Time Machine" stars as Jack Elgin. Irons who usually plays the villain seems at home in the shoes of a British magazine editor who just lost the majority of his family in a tragic accident. He conveys a number of emotions from revenge, to sadness with relative ease in the lead role. Although it's not of the same caliber of some of his better performances in "Lolita" and "Stealing Beauty" it's light years ahead of his dreadful turn in "Dungeons and Dragons". Forest Whitaker is a versatile actor/director and appears in the role of Jules Bernard, an impartial investigator assigned to look into the deaths of the terrorists. Whitaker whose currently on screen in "Panic Room" appears in the latter part of the film and for the most part brings a lot of class and dignity to the production. His character is a bit underdeveloped for my liking but Whitaker does more with the role then another actor would. The same can't be said for Jason Priestley's Davidson a character that's so one dimensional it's almost funny. Priestly best known as Brendan Walsh from the long running nighttime soap "Beverly Hills 90210" hasn't really done much noteworthy acting work since the show ended it's run in 1997. He did direct a couple episodes of "The Outer Limits" as well as a 1999 concert film for the Barenaked Ladies but he's mostly disappeared from the spotlight. Priestley brings nothing to the role and seems dreadfully miscast. Also appearing is Charlotte Rampling (Under the Sand) in a small role as an ex-associate and now friend of Jeremy Iron's Jack. There isn't really much for Rampling to do here either but she brings a female presence into the film something that is lacking in other scenes.
"The Fourth Angel" isn't a spectacular film by any stretch of the imagination. It has some good ideas buried underneath a very common and predictable story line. It doesn't hide the fact that there are problems like the completely obvious plot holes. However I do think John Irvin has made a surprisingly watchable film that does a number of things right. The pacing is quick and to the point and the 97 minutes flew by. The acting from Irons and Whitaker is strong and the film has a good message. I found some scenes a bit difficult to watch due to the still somewhat sensitive subject matter. All in all I'm a bit disappointed in the final film as I thought things could have been more developed. As it stands "The Fourth Angel" is a good way to spend an hour and a half but certainly nothing to write home about.
Film Rating : 7.5/10
VIDEO: Seville Pictures present "The Fourth Angel" in a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that despite contradictory information on the packaging is not enhanced for 16x9 displays. Despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement this one of the best transfers I've seen so far from the small Canadian distributor. Coming hot on the heals of their marvellous transfer of "The Hole". The transfer is ultra sharp and well detailed possessing a very nice film like quality to it. There are a few scenes that appear to be a bit soft but they only account for less then a minute of total screen time. Colors are accurately represented though given the style and look of the film they appear more natural and muted then one would expect. To be completely honest the black level could have been slightly deeper as during the opening credit sequence the black of the letterbox didn't match up with the black background. In terms of other problems there isn't really much to complain about. I didn't notice any edge enhancement though there was some slight shimmering on a couple of brick buildings. In terms of print flaws there really isn't anything to discuss as the print used is impeccably clean. I can't remember the last time I saw a print this clean. If there are print flaws present they did a good job of hiding from this viewer as my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time. Overall this is a very nice transfer that's only real fault is being non anamorphic. Seville have done a nice job here.
Video Rating : 8.5/10
SOUND Seville Pictures brings "The Fourth Angel" to DVD with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks in both of Canada's official languages. It should be noted that original press materials had the disc containing a 5.1 mix but due to production problems that track is not included on the DVD. What we are left with is an acceptable Dolby Surround presentation that handles the material with relative ease but without creating a memorable audio experience. Things remain close to the front of the sound stage as the left/right main speakers provide most of the film's score and sound effects. Surround speaker use is limited to the more action oriented scenes. The audio experience is really dependant on the events occurring in the film. The soundtrack folds up into the center channel for lengthy periods of essentially dialogue based scenes. The dialog mix is a bit troubling as the volume level is not uniform throughout the track. Some scenes are hard to hear without bumping up the volume on the center channel while others are at just the right level. It wasn't that the other elements were overpowering the dialog because most of the trouble scenes were fairly quiet passages. The bass level is fine on the couple of occasions that it's called upon but it's certainly nothing that's going to cause a noise complaint. Since this wasn't an action dominated film the lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't as big of a problem though I'm sure it would have brought the experience up a notch. Despite a few minor problems and a total lack of creativity "The Fourth Angel" probably sounds nearly as good as it can on this DVD.
Audio Rating : 7.5/10
EXTRAS:Seville Pictures has included a nearly 20 minute look at the making of "The Fourth Angel". In general this is a pretty good featurette which isn't focused entirely on selling the movie to the general public. There are a number of flip clips but these are interspersed with cast and crew interviews discussing the characters and concepts of the film. The interviews range from informative to typical marketing hype but Jeremy Irons and Forest Whitaker bring interesting ideas and thoughts to their segments. The feature is broken into several subsections focusing on different aspects of the film as if the piece was originally intended for television airing.It's not as informative as something on an "Infinifilm" disc would be but this is much more then your cookie cutter HBO or Showtime promotional tool. In an odd move there's no indication of who produced the featurette. An above average "Making Of".
Up next we have the obligatory Seville Pictures trailer gallery. Making up this section are the trailers for "The Hole", "Eye of the Beholder", "Chinese Box", "Mexico City" and "The Fourth Angel". All are presented in Full-Frame and with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio except for "The Fourth Angel" which is presented at 2.35:1 non anamorphic widescreen.
Rounding out the disc we have a selection of cast biographies.
Extras Rating : 7/10
Final Thoughts: "The Fourth Angel" is one of those films you'd come across in a video store and pick up and look at the cover not knowing exactly what to think. It makes for an interesting watch and is carried by Jeremy Irons and Forest Whitaker's strong performances. It doesn't break any new ground but it doesn't seem to be trying to either. It's a fast, fun, predictable 97 minute thrill ride that has the shell of something great. Seville Picture's Canadian exclusive DVD features an excellent video transfer that's only real fault is being non anamorphic and an above average Dolby Surround audio track in both English and French. It is a tad light on the extras but at least the "Featurette" isn't a fluff piece. If your a fan of Jeremy Irons or Forest Whitaker this will make a nice addition to your collection. Usually I'd recommend a rental on a title like this but since this is a Canada only release that might not be easy to do. If you can pick this one up at a good price online and it interests you then you could do a lot worse. "The Fourth Angel" garners a light recommendation but unless your certain you'll enjoy the film I'd wait for a domestic release.
Disc Rating : 7.5/10