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Statement, The  (2003)


Starring: Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam

Director: Norman Jewison

Rating: R

Distributor: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

Release Date: April 27, 2004
Review posted: June 17, 2004

Spoilers: Minor


Reviewed by Gregory L. Amato




Flash back to France 1944, when seven Jews were rounded up by French Nazi collaborators and executed. Flash forward to 1992, and one such individual is still on the run. Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine, The Quiet American, Get Carter), responsible for the executions, has been hidden by a very right-wing group within the Catholic Church ever since his escape from justice at the end of World War II.


With a new law concerning crimes against humanity passed, Brossard goes from forgotten embarrassment to marked man. While Judge Annemarie Livi (Tilda Swinton, Adaptation, Vanilla Sky) and Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam, Gosford Park) investigate his whereabouts in order to bring him to trial, another group wants to pin a statement of war crimes to his dead body. Brossard must outwit and outrun his pursuers or else face up to his past crimes, the one thing he refuses to do. Based on the novel of the novel of the same name by Brian Moore.




The Statementís second scene, after we see the events of 1944 that set the story in motion, is one of the best openings in any thriller, political or not. Enough is revealed as Brossard is shadowed by an unknown man to tell us some of the storyís basics, but enough is left unknown to make it interesting. We know just enough to want to know more.


Unfortunately the film slows down after that opening. A lot. The judge and the colonel are determined not just to catch Brossard, but to find out what high-level government officials allowed him to escape in 1945, and who might have helped him stay on the run for almost 50 years. All is methodically unraveled, bit by painstaking bit. We find out why not everyone wants to see Brossard caught, and what is really behind both his god-fearing character and the churchís motivation to keep him hidden. 


All this is done as well as could be with the top-notch set of actors assembled for the project. Michael Caine is merely the lead in a story that includes some of the finest British actors (and yes, they are almost all British actors playing French characters) available. Swinton and Northam play their parts smoothly and John Neville (Spider, The Fifth Element) makes much more of his meager screen time than might be expected.


The problem is that all the acting in the world canít make up for the fact that this is more of a detective story than a thriller (and yet not quite either), and the only character weíre given enough information to empathize with is also the most despicable character in the story. Livi and Roux are our heroes, but we get little background on the judge and almost none on the colonel. Caine plays Brossard convincingly, but itís hard to find him the least bit sympathetic even as the underdog trying to escape numerous pursuers. And in terms of the assassins stalking Brossard, you have to wonder what their qualifications could possibly have been in order to be so ineffective.


On the one hand, director Norman Jewison (The Hurricane; The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming) is trying to show us a desperate man on the run.  On the other hand, this desperate old man takes out his first adversary, searches for clues, and disposes of the body with such skill that it seems like a practiced technique for him. Yet there he is later, shocked and dismayed that he had to kill a man in self-defense, even if he was well prepared for such an incident by riding around the south of France with a gun and a pair of gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. Can we understand the reaction as hypocrisy inherent the character?  Probably, but that still doesnít explain why he was carrying a gun with him even before he knew he was being hunted.


The Statement gets from beginning to end with solid acting and a carefully scripted story, but itís so workmanlike that it leaves room for little excitement or intrigue. Some have criticized the film for being self important or thinking more of its moral ambiguity than it should. Perhaps so, but in the end the moral ambiguity and importance rest not with the man himself, but with the institutions surrounding him.




Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment presents The Statement in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is pretty clean, with no noticeable compression artifacts or halos.




Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment presents The Statement in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. Dialog is pretty much all there is, and is fairly clear throughout.




Jewisonís excellent opening in The Statement is paralleled by an extremely boring commentary by the director at the beginning of the film. Later on things finally get a little bit better, but Jewison still insists on telling us what is happening as if we didnít know it. When the location or time changes, we know it because little words at the bottom of the screen tell us it is now 1992 or now weíre somewhere else in France, but just in case you missed them Jewison repeats the information.


Also lackluster are the two non-conversations, one with Michael Caine and one with Norman Jewison. Neither manages to say much of anything interesting, and in fact they are simply monologues within the confines of a few general questions, not conversations. Two deleted scenes are rather short, one simply an extension of a scene included in the film.




If you want a good political thriller with Michael Caine, try one of his Harry Palmer films (e.g., The Ipcress File) instead. The Statement is carefully done and subtle, but itís done to the point of dulling the experience. The "thrill" in this thriller just isnít there, making the film merely okay.




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