The Statement

on December 12, 2003 by Mark Keizer
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As if the French don't feel guilty enough for just being French, "The Statement" sees director Norman Jewison ("In the Heat of the Night," "The Hurricane") turning his socially conscious eye on modern-day Nazi sympathizers within the Catholic Church and amongst surviving members of the Vichy regime. And while there is definitely an important movie to be made about Church complicity toward Jewish persecution during World War II, "The Statement," no matter how much we want it to be, is simply not that movie.

The film's worthwhile subject matter and behind-the-scenes pedigree will endear it to film critics and older, more discriminating audiences. However, "The Statement" is no more insightful than a paperback purchased at an airport bookstore. How ironic that the movie is actually based on a well-received novel by Brian Moore.The film begins in 1944 as young Vichy officer Pierre Brossard gives the order to execute seven Jews in the town in Dombey, France. Decades later, the aging Brossard (Michael Caine) lives a marginal existence, protected by conservative members of the Catholic Church as well as old comrades from his Vichy days.

Brossard's peaceful existence comes to a dramatic end after he's almost assassinated in a roadside ambush. Shaken by the incident and realizing he must, once again, play fugitive, he turns to his wartime friends for guidance. As if that weren't enough, Brossard is now charged with crimes against humanity, which means his case is reopened and assigned to Judge Anne Marie Livi (Tilda Swinton) and Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam). Despite his age, Brossard is wily and well-connected, which helps him stay one step ahead of the various factions trying to bring him to justice.

At one point, he takes refuge with his estranged wife (Charlotte Rampling) in a scene that hints of the interesting personal dynamics that the film refuses to explore satisfactorily. In fact, throughout its running time, Jewison and writer Ronald Harwood play the film's juicy moral implications surprisingly nonchalant, with equal attention paid to standard investigative procedures.

The pouty-lipped Northam and the red-haired Swinton are the Euro-equivalent of "The X-Files'" Mulder and Scully. They're driven, humorless and we know very little about them, as they exist solely to find Brossard. And the more Jewison concentrates on their investigation, the more we rely on Caine to carry the emotional burden of the film. And even here, despite Caine's best efforts, Brossard is somehow too elusive as a character. While seemingly without a trace of remorse for his wartime atrocity, he is also deeply religious, although it's never entirely clear what percentage of his faith comes from emotional guilt versus monetary necessity. As such, the audience doesn't hate him enough to want him dead, nor pity him enough to want him to live. He crosses the line from morally ambiguous, which is dramatically acceptable, to just plain ambiguous, which is not.

The standout technical contribution is from editor Andrew Eisen, who slowly and confidently tightens the noose around Brossard. The film was shot by Kevin Jewison, the director's son. All the performances are professionally rendered: the likable Northam has no character arc to concern himself with, while Swinton merely gets to feel vindicated that she did the right thing, despite warnings from her hotshot Minister friend (Alan Bates).

For Jewison, "The Statement" is a step back from the better but still overrated 1999 drama "The Hurricane." That he continues to tackle controversial subjects younger directors would never touch is admirable and necessary. But in "The Statement," what should have been a deeply-felt personal drama with intriguing historical overtones is instead a middling, emotionally distant thriller. Starring Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam. Directed by Norman Jewison. Written by Ronald Harwood. Produced by Norman Jewison and Robert Lantos. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Rated R for violence. Running time: 120 min

Tags: Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Norman Jewison, Ronald Harwood, Robert Lantos, A Sony Pictures Classics release, Drama, noose, vindicated, middling, emotional
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