It seems either very brave or very imperceptive for a critic to pick on The Statement. After all, director Norman Jewison has directed more than 25 films, been nominated for 46 awards and earned 12 Academy Awards. Screenwriter Ronald Harwood has won an Academy Award for The Pianist (Best Adapted Screenplay) in addition to a nomination for The Dresser. Michael Caine, lead actor in The Statement, is an acting icon with more than 90 films to his credit and many award nominations as well as Academy Awards for Hannah and Her Sisters (Best Supporting Actor) and Cider House Rules (Best Supporting Actor).
With such amazing talent on board for a film, one would expect to have few complaints. Yet I had many. The Statement, adapted from the book by Brian Moore, is a political-thriller about Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine), a man who was part of the Milice, a military force created by the German Vichy government in 1943 with the sole purpose of executing French Jews.
The Statement takes place in modern day France and follows Brossard's life on the run -- as he's never faced a trial for his war crimes. During the 50 or more years since WWII, Brossard has had some semblance of a normal life: he's married and divorced, and knows who to rely on for support -- including many Catholic priests as well as a group of Vichy colleagues. These people hide him and give him money to live on.
Now, many years later, Brossard has a new aggressor who wants him to pay for his actions. Judge Anne Marie Livi (Tilda Swinton) of the Palais de Justice opens an investigation of Brossard and when he's impossible to find, joins up with Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam) to find him.
However, they are not the only ones after Brossard. David Mandelbaum (Matt Craven) has been hired to kill Broussard. He does not know why, and the audience never really learns who hired him. David is merely told to leave a statement on the body citing the death as an act of justice for Jews who were executed.
The film muddles along in its delivery of the story, and I grew tired of trying to figure it out and attempting to put the pieces together. Who is the real aggressor? The Jewish terrorists seeking revenge? The French government? Or the Chevaliers, a secret group within the church occasionally alluded to?
When Anne Marie approaches Minister Bertier (Alan Bates), a high government French official, to investigate his connection to Brossard, she is severely warned against pursuing her investigation. Another mysterious subplot that never gets fully developed in the film.
In addition to Jewison's lack of focus on the plot, Brossard is a character for whom I have no empathy. He's a dog who cares about no one, continues to murder anyone who gets in his way, and has no remorse about his crime. His only driving aspiration is to seek absolution from the church.
Michael Caine admitted he disliked the character as well, but still wanted to play the part.
"Brossard had no respect for life," Caine said. "I've never disliked anybody as much as I disliked Brossard. That's the reason I did it (made the film). I keep testing myself to see what I can do to make it harder on myself. I've been acting a long time. I could play a cockney gangster or a womanizer in my sleep or standing on my head. What I try to do is find characters who are as far away from myself as I possibly can and then make them real. A French Nazi is about as far away from me as I can possibly get without actually going to Mars."
Many other elements of the film highlight the obscure; a French film shot in France where everyone speaks English is one example. While the film's subject and historical aspect fascinated me, in the end I had far more questions than answers.
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for violence.)