Conspiracy buffs will enjoy THE STATEMENT more than just about any other sort of moviegoer. For the rest of us, this story about a Frenchman who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II fails as the thriller that the filmmakers may have had in mind. It is, rather, more along the lines of a procedural drama, the kind that the Law and Order franchise does so well.
The collaborator in question is Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine). In 1944, he executed seven Jews on the orders of the local Nazi commander. Arrested by the civilian police after the war, he escaped with what appears to have been their assistance and has been on the run ever since aided by a shadowy splinter group of right-wing Catholics called The Chevaliers, who dont have much of a problem with executed Jews and who suspect that the Pope may not be a proper Catholic. Ever since is 1992, the year our story is set, when a Jewish vigilante accosts Brossard on a deserted road in Provence in order to execute him, only to have the tables turned. Meanwhile, back in Paris, the case has been dusted off and turned over to Judge Anne Marie Livi (Tilda Swinton) in what may or may not be a career making opportunity. Rather than call in the police, who many have skeletons in their closet to hide about Brossards escape, she recruits a handsome army colonel (Jeremy Northam) to help in her hush-hush investigations.
As with the L&O franchise, there are a few surprise twists that actually do lead somewhere, but its fairly obvious about half an hour into the film who it is thats helping the Chevaliers hide Brossard. There are also a great many paths to traverse and people to contact for our intrepid investigators and their quarry. A bit of trimming would have made for a sprightlier pace from director Norman Jewison.
Good performances make up for some of that. Caines Brossard suffers with conviction and with a remarkable consistency of responsibility, as in, everyone else made me do it, from the Church that preached against the Communist Resistance during the war, to the vigilantes in the present who are making him kill again. He puts a fine edge on Brossards obsession with absolution and totemic relationship with his St. Christopher medals. For good measure, the script throws in a thoroughly unnecessary and inconsistent interlude with his estranged wife (Charlotte Rampling), solely, it might be argued, to have him threaten to kill her beloved pet dog. As for Swinton and Northam, they fail to generate any chemistry whatsoever, romantic or otherwise. Blame Swinton, an actress of tremendous presence even when sitting perfectly still. There is a powerful intelligence in those pale, slightly sardonic eyes gazing coolly out on the world from beneath a dramatic sweep of bobbed red hair. She cant help but mop the floor with anyone else on screen. A slew of character actors, including Alan Bates, John Neville, Ciaran Hinds, and Frank Finlay populate the rest of the film, bringing some nice texture to the proceedings.
THE STATEMENT, it refers to the note that the would-be assassins want to leave on Brossards dead body identifying him as a war criminal, does have a few truly haunting moments. They pop up when Brossard has flashbacks to the deed that got him into all this trouble. Its the eyes of the people he killed looking right at him. They haunt his delusion that he did the right thing back then, fueling that obsession for redemption. They look out on us, too, in that high-contrast black-and-white used for the past, vividly though wordlessly testifying to us about what happened, how they were taken from their homes as their neighbors watched and did nothing.