In 1944, Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine) while working with the Vichy Government of France as a Nazi collaborator, was responsible for helping German soldiers execute seven jews in a small village. Captured at the end of the war but having escaped, Brossard has been enjoying the protection of a mysterious and powerful group apparently connected to the Catholic church for over 40 years - or so investigators believed. When a new law is enacted to prosecute crimes against humanity, investigating magistrate Annemarie Livi (Tilda Swinton) takes on the case. Suspicious of the police who originally let Brossard escape, she calls in Army Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam) to assist her. The hunters close in on Brossard but hired assassins are also on his trail, to ensure he is silenced before he is caught and perhaps reveal the identity of the highly placed men who have protected him all this time.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Totally different in tone and style from other films dealing with Nazi collaborators or hunted war criminals, The Statement is a complex thriller and character study, with Michael Caine delivering a wonderfully wheezy, heart-attack-prone old Brossard who elicits both disgust and pity in equal doses. And that's what makes the film really interesting, as we zig zag through the emotional minefield that is Pierre Brossard's story.
It is also a story about the moral quagmire in which the Church found itself, and the everlasting echo of those self-serving, immoral decisions that continue to this day. There are still men who served in the Vichy Government holding positions of power.
Thanks to Caine, this Brossard is no cardboard cutout character, but a genuine multi-dimensional person whose profound faith in God sits alongside his hideous act of treachery. In trying to understand him, we also get close to understanding some others who were caught in that horrendous moment of history. But Jewison never lets us feel sorry for Brossard in a sentimental sense; there is no judging, but neither does he go soft on the man.
Nor is the film a sermon: the tension is brilliantly maintained as magistrate Livi (Tilda Swinton) and Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam) gather clues, follow leads and find brick walls. The implication of the Catholic Church is one strand of the story, linked to the mysterious assassination attempts on Brossard. The plot is teased out with the skill of a master filmmaker, and the cast deliver excellent characterisations, tainted for me only by their very Englishness, in the context of a story so crucially French.
I know it's a pragmatic decision, and I know it doesn't bother everyone, but my sensitivities are prickled by the cultural dislocation of an English cast in a French setting. Shot in Provence, with everything else in French (street signs, place names, even captions on French television news reports) the stiff upper lipness of the stars is at odds with the insouciance, the body language and the mannerisms of the Frenchmen and women I know. But it's a credit to the film that it overcomes this distraction as it squeezes every ounce of drama out of the fact-based story.
An excellent score and a wonderful series of locations create a tangible sense of place and pace, but the image that'll haunt you is that of Michael Caine's anguished, bewildered face. It's a remarkable performance, especially considering the contradictions of his character that he has to make us believe. And he does.
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STATEMENT, THE (M)
CAST: Michael Caine, Jeremy Northam, Tilda Swinton, Alan Bates, Charlotte Rampling, Frank Finlay, Peter Wight
PRODUCER: Robert Lantos, Norman Jewison
DIRECTOR: Norman Jewison
SCRIPT: Ronald Harwood (novel by Brian Moore)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kevin Jewison
EDITOR: Andrew S. Eisen, Stephen E. Rivkin
MUSIC: Normand Corbeil
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean Rabasse
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: May 20, 2004