John Frankenheimer’s The Fourth War isn’t about a war at all — it’s about the nostalgia for war. Set in 1988, the movie stars Roy Scheider as a Vietnam hero now stationed at a U.S. military base on the West German-Czech border, a wintry outpost so remote and irrelevant it might as well be the North Pole. It’s not just glasnost that has rendered Scheider’s character obsolete. He has been left behind by the whole soft, disillusioned consciousness of post- Vietnam America.
In a lunge for salvation, he pops over the forbidden border to confront his Russian adversaries face-to-face, only to discover they’re every bit as sick and tired of war (cold or otherwise) as the Americans are. By turns mournful and bitterly funny, The Fourth War is an old-soldiers-never-die movie — an ironic elegy — and though much of the story is contrived and second-rate, Scheider gives a richly felt performance.