The Statement

Robin Clifford 
The Statement
Laura Clifford 

In 1944 occupied France, Pierre Brossard, an officer in the dreaded, Nazi-collaborating Milice, took part in the round up and summary execution of seven Jewish resistance fighters. At the war’s end he was tried and convicted of the crimes but escaped, evading capture until he was pardoned in 1992. But, a new crimes-against-humanity law has been passed and he is once again being sought for prosecution. And, he barely survives an assassination attempt and must once again flee for his life in “The Statement.”

Michael Caine plays the aging Brossard, a furtive and humble man and devout Catholic. Beneath the surface he is a cold blooded and ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to save himself and guns down a man sent to kill him. He covers up the murder, dumping the victim and his car in a remote ravine, and seeks the help of several prominent members of the Church clergy and former Vichy sympathizers in finding sanctuary from arrest.

As Brossard searches for a way out of the country the French government institutes an aggressive campaign for his capture, assigning a senior investigator, Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam), to the case. He, in turn, goes to Judge Anne Marie Livi (Tilda Swinton), a half-Catholic/half-Jewish jurist who is empowered to find and arrest Brossard by any means necessary.

“The Statement,” the title of which refers to the indictment drawn up on Brossard when the law renewing prosecution of Vichy-era war criminals is implemented, is an odd crossing of “The Day of the Jackal” and a Catholic “Odessa File.” There is the story of Brossard’s flight and the obvious help by members of the Church – an ambiguous condemnation of the Catholic Church’s involvement in condoning of, or, at least, turning a blind eye to, the Nazi-led atrocities committed on Jews and others. There is the relentless pursuit of the war criminal by Roux and Livi. We also get an “Odessa File”-like high-level cover-up and complicity of the Catholic fathers as a subject of analysis.

Director Norman Jewison tells the true-life based story from the Frederick Forsyth novel, adapted by Kenneth Ross, in a straightforward but non-compelling manner. Michael Caine never fleshes out his character, Brossard, to be either sympathetic or villain. The character wanders from on monastery to another, gaining refuge as he desperately tries to gain passage to the safety of South America. Meanwhile, the investigators, Roux and Livi, relentlessly chase the man to a tragic end.

There are a number of problems with the details of “The Statement,” first of which is the casting of almost all the characters from the pool of English thespians. Almost everyone sports a notably undisguised English accent that drew my attention for the entire film. (The French film critic community must have torn the film apart as anti-Gallic.) Another distraction is the casting of Charlotte Rampling as Brossard’s ex-wife and World War II contemporary – the obvious age difference between Caine and Rampling is jarring and doesn’t make sense. The rest of the cast is a who’s-who list of Brit actors, besides Caine, Swinton and Northam – Alan Bates, John Neville, Ciaran Hind and others populate the supporting roles, though none with any distinction.

“The Statement” never finds its level as a film with its multiple story threads and the implication of anti-Semitism within the Catholic Church. It tries to make a statement of its own but falls short of its goal. I give it a C.

During WWII, Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine, "The Quiet American"; George Williams in flashback) was a Vichy collaborator who participated in the execution of seven Jewish men in Dombey.  In 1992 Provence, he is a hunted man, being pursued by those who wish to retaliate and brand him with "The Statement."

Director Norman Jewison ("The Hurricane") tells a cat and mouse story with an unsympathetic protagonist and murky agenda.  The Canadian director's all British cast portraying French characters in accented English further adds another off flavor to this stew.

The film begins with a black and white flashback of Brossard's crime against humanity before cutting to the senior citizen war criminal in a local cafe.  He's being observed by David Memenbaum (Matt Craven, "Timeline"), who follows Brossard up mountainous roads in a Hitchcockian sequence complete with Herrmann-inspired score (Normand Corbeil, "The Art of War").  Staging a breakdown, David lies in wait, but Brossard is one step ahead of him, and discovers the Statement, identifying him and his crime by a group avenging the Jewish victims of Dombey, meant to be left on his dead body.

Brossard is also being hunted in an official capacity by Judge Anne Marie Livi (Tilda Swinton, "The Deep End") and her assistant Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam, "The Singing Detective"), who begin a sweep to uncover both Brossard and the underground group intent on assassinating him.  Livi is aggressive and impulsive and may have a personal agenda (one of the victims names is also Livi) while Roux is more methodical and level-headed.  They soon discover that the man who followed Brossard towards the Abbey de St. Cros was not Jewish and that the Catholic Church is involved in covering Brossard's tracks, specifically a mysterious group known as the Chavealiers de Saint Marie. Anne Marie believes that following the pursuers will lead her to an old and corrupt man in the French government.  A warning from her Uncle Armand (Alan Bates, "The Mothman Prophecies"), a highly placed government official, confirms her suspicions.

Ronald Harwood's ("The Pianist") adaptation of Brian Moore's novel fails to distill any satisfaction at the conclusion of this story's arduous twists and turns.  The casting of a high profile star like Michael Caine as Brossard was a dubious move, as the character is but a mere pawn caught between the above board Livi/Roux and the shadowy conspiracy they are up against.  As envisioned by Jewison, Nazi sympathies in the Catholic Church (one Monsignor explains that the Resistance was Communist and would have delivered France to Stalin) plays more like "The Omen" than Costa-Gavras's powerful film of a year ago, "Amen." Intermittent Hitchcock homages (a Dutch angle shot of a bell tower, an escape over tiled rooftops, a food-obsessed police inspector) don't sustain their tone throughout the film.

Caine does his best with a difficult lot, portraying the desperation of a cornered man with a heart condition well, but he cannot rise above a script that has him threatening his wife with harming her dog in one scene and praying for a state of grace in the next. Swinton and Northam begin to develop what looks like a sexy sparring partnership, only to have it abandoned to the script's chases from one locale to the next.  Rampling, enjoying a career resurgence of late, may be hoping this extended cameo will be forgotten as her character makes little contextual sense.  Other name players like Ciarán Hinds ("Veronica Guerin"), and John Neville ("Spider") are given little to do.

"The Statement" may be viewed as a warning against collusion of Church and State, but it is the filmic equivalent of a run-on sentence with too many dangling participles.

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