An ostensible Nazi-hunting thriller that's far too impressed with its supposed moral ambiguity, The Statement is about former Vichy militia Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine) who, back in 1944, helped the Nazis round up and execute seven Jews in a small French town. It's based on the true story of Paul Touvier, who ordered such an execution on June 29, 1944 in southwestern France, and was sentenced to life in prison in 1995.
Set in the 1990s, the film follows Brossard as he hops from one hiding place to another around France (a secret society in the Catholic Church called the Chevalier have been keeping him safe since the war), while a judge and police officer (Annemarie Livi and Colonel Roux, played by Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam) try and track him down so that he can stand trial for his collaboration. At the same time, incredibly unskilled assassins are following Brossard, too, under orders from a high-ranking government and police official (John Neville and Ciarán Hinds), who may be part of a Jewish commando taking revenge or just want a cover-up.
One would imagine that director Norman Jewison would have figured out in all his decades of filmmaking just how it is you go about making a decent movie. He's got a mini-Altman film's worth of great actors, Nazis, secret societies, and government conspiracies to play with, as well. But it's literally as though an editor went through the film and excised everything that might have made it interesting. The scene at the start of the film where the first hapless killer tracks Caine through Provence is the least exciting chase in recent film history - you can almost see Jewison behind the camera saying, "No, have the cars drive slower" and instructing Caine to act as though he's about to fall asleep.
Although Caine was given some great opportunities here, he is a large part of the reason The Statement utterly fails. Having made the smart decision to play Brossard as a craven weakling - the kind of guy who will kill somebody in cold blood and then cry to his priest about it afterwards - Caine is never able to quite get a hold of the character; it's a muddled, near-embarrassing performance. The film manages one fantastic moment when Brossard seeks refuge from his long-estranged wife, who is played to perfection by an icy Charlotte Rampling, and we get a true glimpse of him, a racist coward who hides behind prayers and a stony dedication to the old, pre-Vatican II church. Unfortunately we are soon thrust back into another dull chase, the one being undertaken by Swinton and Northam, both glittery eye candy, but hardly believable in their roles as hard-bitten seekers of justice.
Jewison keeps the cops dashing about, interrogating church and government types, thinking that he's uncovering this seedy nest of complicity between the Church and the Nazis. Only it doesn't really show anything we didn't know before (see the unsuccessful but still far-better Amen. for more on that), and manages to be wrenchingly dull in the process; when the "mystery" is finally uncovered, it's an embarrassment, the Hardy Boys could have handled this thing in 15 minutes.
A definitive statement is made with the finger.
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 27th February 2004
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: Company Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 24%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 81
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Norman Jewison
Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood
Starring: Michael Caine as Pierre Brossard, Tilda Swinton as Annemarie Livi, Jeremy Northam as Colonel Roux, Alan Bates as Armand Bertier, Charlotte Rampling as Nicole, John Neville as Old Man, Ciarán Hinds as Pochon, Frank Finlay as Commissaire Vionnet, William Hutt as Le Moyne, Matt Craven as David Manenbaum, Noam Jenkins as Michael Levy
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