The Statement
review by Nicholas Schager, 12 December 2003

The Statement is the kind of inert, serious-minded Holocaust-themed film that makes you pine for campy Nazi-hunting adventures like the Laurence Olivier-Gregory Peck Hitler cloning saga The Boys from Brazil. This earnest historical suspense yarn from director Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof, The Hurricane) concerns a former Vichy government murderer sought by both a dogged French judge and the ex-Vichy bigwigs who want their secret Nazi-sympathizing pasts concealed. The Statement (based on the novel by Brian Moore) wants to be both a thriller and a revelatory historical exposť, but on both counts it falls flat. Stern and stolid, Jewisonís film canít muster an ounce of edge-of-your-seat tension, and, even worse, its condemnation of the Vichy government amounts to little more than an inadequate slap on the wrist.

Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine) killed seven Jews in 1944 as a willing member of the Vichy governmentís military police. Although pardoned for his crimes years later, Brossard is forced back into hiding by a pesky new Crimes Against Humanity law that has made him both fresh bait for prosecutors interested in nabbing Franceís remaining Vichy-era criminals, and a dangerous nuisance to those in government who would prefer Brossard not spill his guts about the current administrationís ties to the Vichy regime. As portrayed by Caine, Brossard is a devout religious man hiding, like a simpering coward, in abbeys across the country for fear that his capture will surely mean spending his final days locked behind bars. Yet when confronted with life-and-death decisions, the trembling, agitated Brossard undergoes a startling transformation Ė his eyes turn cold, his lips contort into a snarl, and his movements become swift and deadly. Heís like a wounded dog who, when backed into a corner, bares some mighty impressive fangs.

Judge Annemarie Livi (Tilda Swinton) and her military sidekick Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam) are hot on Brossardís trail, suspecting the fugitive is being sheltered by both the Catholic Church and the government. Unfortunately, their tenacious, Veronica Guerin-like investigation Ė characterized by demanding immediate answers with rude bluntness Ė soon becomes a wearisome expository device constructed to give us some filler about Brossardís powerful friends. As they race to find Brossard, Swinton and Northam exchange limp banter with erudite snappiness in English and without a French accent (thus giving the film a peculiarly British feel), and they eventually deduce the conspiracy thatís keeping Brossard temporarily safe with unbelievable ease. Charlotte Rampling fares better as Brossardís scorned wife, instilling the film with some passion and vitriol during a scene in which she is reunited with her husband-on-the-run. Yet as befitting a film with jumbled priorities, Rampling disappears almost as soon as she appears, thus turning a potentially fascinating detour into just another distracting narrative affectation.

Meanwhile, a covert organization purporting to be friends and family members of Brossardís Jewish victims have hired assassins to silence the former Vichy lackey. Jewison, however, reveals this groupís true colors fairly early on by showing us their ringleader perched, with regal Gallic narcissism, at an imposing desk with the French flag hanging in the background. Rather than saying something interesting about the ways in which ordinary citizens helped conspire with the Vichy government to aid and abet Jewish persecution, the film merely offers us an old white guy (in this case John Neville) as the monstrous symbol of French collaboration. The result is a shameful cop-out in which the Vichy government Ė presented as a few evil, power hungry rich men Ė is reduced into an easily quantifiable, and thus easily rectified, mistake that can be effortlessly digested by mass audiences. Ironically, such simplification is what ultimately makes The Statement difficult to stomach.

Directed by:
Norman Jewison

Starring:
Michael Caine
Tilda Swinton
Charlotte Rampling
Alan Bates
Jeremy Northam
CiarŠn Hinds
John Neville
Matt Craven
Edward Petherbridge

Written by:
 Ronald Harwood

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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