The Fourth State is the new film from German director Dennis Gansel, responsible for the excellent vampire narrative We Are The Night. For his latest feature, he moves the action and intrigue to Russia, and makes it his first predominantly English speaking film.
Paul Jensen (the excellent Moritz Bleibtreu) is a tabloid reporter from Berlin who moves to Russia and begins work at a gossip magazine in Moscow. The magazine is ran by his friend and mentor Alexei and with his involvement and socialite skills of tracking the rich and famous the circulation figures for the magazine soar. His hedonistic life changes when he meets the beautiful activist Katja (Kasia Smutniak) and falls in love. She convinces him to run a politically oriented obituary and from there he is caught in a dangerous web of conspiracy and lies and quickly indicted. Soon he realises that he must face his own past to solve the political conspiracy against him.
Gansel is the master of the bleak modern narrative. We Are The Night had an excuse as it was about the cold steely world of vampires and The Wave had Nazi themes, but The Fourth State is unreasonably cold and detached and less stylized as his previous efforts.
The film practically jumps into another form altogether when the night club and party scenes occur and you can feel the youthful direction of Gansel. Unfortunately most of the film takes place on the cold grey streets of Russia during the day and is meant to be a slow burning political thriller. This type of film is something Gansel does not seem to have the patience for and it suffers as a result.When the situation becomes dire for Paul the middle of the film quickly expands into an action-filled spy extravaganza but it is too late and the requisite padding has done its damage. Another issue with The Fourth State is that it is quite light on plot; the story is perhaps too easy to follow and deals with strands of intrigue individually.The realism is also sucked out of the story as everyone in Russia seems to conveniently speak fluent English, hardly the Euro-linguistic socio-political drama it pretends to be.
The Fourth State is a bit of a miserable experience, nothing about it really elevates above and beyond what has been seen before. It is a shame as Gansel has the director chops and his cinematography and score certainly attest to this also.
Seek it out if you are after a bite-sized conspiracy tale but it may leave you hungry for more.
[rating=2] and a half
Kwenton Bellette - follow Kwenton on Twitter here: @Kwenton
The Fourth State is out now on DVD.
Kwenton Bellette is extremely passionate about Asian film and the resurgence of new waves taking place in Korea, Japan and China in the last 10 years. He joined the global site Twitchfilm in 2009, is the artistic director of the Fantastic Asia Film Festival is Melbourne and currently studies a film masters degree at Melbourne University. He is very excited to raise further awareness of the what he thinks is the most exciting film industry in the world.