The controversial new thriller The Statement requires a certain suspension of disbelief from viewers. It's not the film's central conceit that the Catholic Church was complicit in the extermination of Jews during World War II that's hard to swallow. It's not even the idea that modern-day European church and government officials may be engaging in a conspiracy to hide former Nazi collaborators. No, the purely fantastical part is asking audiences to swallow Michael Caine as a Frenchmen.
With his cockney accent on full, proud display, Caine stars as Pierre Brossard, a former French police officer. Brossard was a member of the Milice, a military force set up by the Vichy government to act out Nazi orders during the '40s. Seems, way back in the day, Brossard helped carry out the execution of seven Jews. Since the end of the war, he's been on the run, avoiding both eager Nazi hunters and the long arm of justice.
The producers of The Statement have seen fit to surround Caine with a host of well-known English actors—Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Alan Bates, John Neville, Charlotte Rampling—all of whom are playing French citizens. If viewers can get past the casting and simply accept the film as some sort of alternate reality in which all Frenchmen were raised on the streets of London, we can get on with the other problems facing the film.
Director Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, Moonstruck) obviously felt this story (based on the well-received novel by Brian Moore) was worth telling. Perhaps it is. The story finds our antihero, Mssr. Brossard, on the run from an intrepid judge (Swinton) and a forthright police colonel (Northam) charged with investigating crimes against humanity. Seems that Brossard has faced justice in the past, but always wriggled free thanks to some powerful friends in high places. Brossard is actually under the protection of the Catholic Church. Being a good, repentant Catholic (as well as a member of a secret church society), Brossard has spent the last 40-odd years being shuttled from one monastery to another. He is flushed out of hiding, however, when a mysterious, seemingly Jewish assassin hunts him down and tries (unsuccessfully) to bump off the old anti-Semite.
Jewison seems to be reaching for a sort
of John le Carré thriller full of juicy political revelations. Unfortunately, he seems to be laboring under a tight budget and a rather lackluster script. Jewison's plodding direction does little to wake up the film's pedantic dialogue and dearth of action. The cat-and-mouse plot never really breaks out into full-on Tom-and-Jerry chaos. Those who like their thrills set at a very low percolate thanks to a heart condition may find The Statement is just their speed.
Intelligent and mildly thought-provoking, The Statement sadly never manages to hit the heights of highbrow action and shocking social commentary it's aiming for. Caine is rather good in what is probably a miscast role. (He's far better in last year's similarly murky moral quagmire The Quiet American.) But Jewison fails to bring the film much past the level of an airport gift shop pulp novel. Even the most mildly alert viewers will have figured out the film's sole “twist” long before the film's stretched-out ending.
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