The Statement (2003)
Main cast: Michael Caine (Pierre Brossard), Tilda Swinton (Annemarie Livi), Charlotte Rampling (Nicole), Alan Bates (Armand Berthier), and Jeremy Northam (Colonel Roux)
Director: Norman Jewison


Jeremy Northam spends a lot, and I do mean a lot, of screentime in The Statement in full military uniform. There's a delightful scene of him all wet from a shower struggling to keep a towel around his waist as he answers the phone, and there's a lot of skin on display there. Do I need any more reason to watch The Statement and give it two thumbs up?

Oh, if you insist, what about the fact that Michael Caine gives a great performance as a despicable yet so compelling ex-Nazi collaborator on the run?

The Statement is a somewhat muddled movie based on Brian Moore's 1997 novel of the same name. Norman Jewison and screenwriter Ronald Harwood actually take pains to tone down Moore's strident anger at the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the World War Two atrocities on the Jews. However, they retain the scene where a Roman Catholic priest tells his fellow priest, "One thing I will always believe is that we lost the war, not in 1940, but in 1945. In 1940, under Maréchal Petain, France was given a chance to revoke the errors, the weakness, and selfishness of the Third Republic. Under the Maréchal, we were led away from selfish materialism and those democratic parliaments which preached a false equality, back to the Catholic values we were brought up in - the family, the nation, the Church. But when the Germans lost the war, all that was finished."

Michael Caine's Pierre Brossard is inspired by real life Nazi collaborator Paul Tovier who managed to escape justice for many years by seeking protection with very right-wing Catholics. In this movie, it is 1997 and Pierre is one of a group of men called the Milice that is charged with the murder of seven Jews in France. Unfortunately, while the others managed to hide their past and some even rose to power in the current French government, Pierre's name is known and is currently the object of judge Annemarie Livi's crusade to bring him to justice and have him expose the identities of his fellow ex-Nazi collaborators. Annemarie asks the assistance of Colonel Roux, who offers her his service as well as the use of the military in her quest. With both the law and the military going after Pierre Brossard, some very important members of the government are rightfully very nervous. Complicating matters is what seems like an underground Jewish vigilante group sending assassins after Pierre. So now Pierre is running from both the government and the vigilantes that want him dead. The question now is whether he can trust his former allies as he flees from one church sanctuary to the other.

While the movie offers rough equal screentime for both Annemarie and Roux as well as for Pierre, it is clearly Pierre's story. Through him, after all, Brian Moore gets to expose the hypocrasy of the French clergy that use religion as an excuse to indulge in their bigotry. Caine's Pierre Brossard, however, is very human. Not likeable, but human. Pierre is not a cruel man, just a stupidly bigoted asshole whose servility causes him to never question the orders of his superiors. He has been living in guilt ever since the war ended, but even so, his idea of forgiveness is quite distasteful. He hears what he only wants to hear from his symphatetic priest buddies and isn't above justifying his actions with reasons only he and his symphatizers find rational. He even blackmails his estranged wife to take him back, for heaven's sake! But because Pierre is weak rather than being a caricature of evil, he is a compelling character to watch. His weak heart adds some interesting drama to his run from the law. While the script has Pierre Brossard written very well, Caine's ability to deliver a fine performance makes this simultaneously fascinating and repulsive character really memorable.

Jeremy Northam is as usual as delicious as a rich dark chocolate cake. Tilda Swinton offers a few moments of satisfying pleasures as this movie allows her Annemarie to become a beautiful and clearly sexually attractive woman without compromising her strengths. However, the movie doesn't let Annemarie become anything more than Roux's sidekick, despite Pierre Brossard being her mission in the first place. I am very disappointed that while Annemarie is depicted as a strong-willed, idealistic, and impulsive judge, she is never allowed to be right or ahead of Roux even once. It is nice that the script decides to expand Annemarie's role in this movie, but her role is still limited to sidekick at the end of the day. Viva la chauvinism.

The Statement could use a tighter focus in the story. The movie fumbles really badly in its laughable treatment of the assassins sent to kill Brossard. The ambiguous and open-ended final scene is one I find pretty acceptable, but there are quite a number of loose ends leading to that scene that is never explained. And while the characters are interesting, there are many scenes of Annemarie and Roux and of Brossard that are bogged down by too much expositions. I don't find this movie boring, just to make this clear, but I can also see that the movie could have been tighter scripted. Annemarie and Roux come off as inept and incompetent at the end of the day while Brossard's run from them relies too much on coincidences and lucky chances. To be honest, this movie is just a little more convincing than a Road Runner cartoon episode as a chase movie.

Good cast with fine performances is what The Statement has in spades, and because of this, the flaws of The Statement may be glaringly obvious but the movie still manages to entertain very well.

Rating: 84


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