the fourth angel(2001)
director: john irvin
jeremy irons, charlotte rampling, forrest whittaker

. The first half hour of The Fourth Angel is hopeful enough, and sets the stage for what might have been a really decent political thriller. Jack Elgin -- a workaholic London magazine editor played by Jeremy Irons -- subtly hijacks the family vacation, changing it from a lazy week of Mediterranean fun and sun to a tour of India, based around a story he has to cover. His wife is not impressed, and Jack is clearly on emotional probation when their plane makes an unscheduled stopover in Cyprus.

What follows is every travellerís nightmare, as the plane is hijacked by terrorists and the commando rescue effort goes terribly wrong. Jackís wife and two daughters are killed in the gun battle, hurling Jack into a black spiral of grieving that turns to rage when the hijackers are released without punishment, the result of some awfully compromised politics.

Irons, with his look of near-constant, aristocratic anguish, is born to play a character like Jack -- a smart man whose position wonít save him from tragedy. Perhaps heís too perfect, considering that the rest of the movie -- where Jack, consumed by rage, tries to avenge his loss by hunting down the terrorists -- completely squanders the taut promise of its set-up.

Jack is given leaked intelligence and encouragement in his crusade by a CIA agent whose motivations seem stereotypically suspect. Jason Priestley plays the CIA spook with hammy menace -- next to Ironsí typically understated performance, Priestley seems like heís auditioning for one of Tom Clancyís techno-melodramas. Forrest Whittaker, as an Interpol agent who helps Irons, is also acting in a whole other film, but thatís standard for Whittaker; itís a shame no oneís ever actually made Whittakerís movie.

Only Charlotte Rampling, as a disgraced intelligence agent and possible love interest for Irons, seems on the same wavelength, but her scenes are short and scarce, and it isnít long before the film becomes emotionally incoherent. It isnít like we canít follow the plot -- which is much simpler than it pretends to be -- but that itís hard to care about Ironsí quest for revenge. Jackís transformation from family man to avenging angel seems scheduled, and the movie that follows the hijacking seems rushed, hurtling to its unsurprising conclusion, a thrill-less suspense-by-numbers.