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Friday, January 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Nazi tale fails to make a strong 'Statement'

Seattle Times movie critic

Michael Caine, an actor who always seems able to find nobility in the most humble of characters, would seem a fascinating choice to play a Nazi war criminal pursued, decades after the war, by mysterious hit men and a judge determined to expose him. Tilda Swinton, Alan Bates, Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Northam would seem to comprise a dream supporting cast. Ronald Harwood, who won an Oscar for his screenplay to "The Pianist," and Norman Jewison, a five-time Oscar nominee whose last film was "The Hurricane," would seem the ideal tellers of this story.

So why is "The Statement" so flat, so plodding, so much less than the sum of its parts?

It's hard to identify precisely what went wrong here — this film should have been electric. Caine's character, Pierre Brossard, in 1944 gave an order for seven Jews to be executed in a concentration camp. We see this in a brief, grainy black-and-white prologue, and then fast-forward to 1992. Brossard, now elderly, has been living anonymously for decades, sheltered by members of right-wing factions within the Catholic church. He's a pious man who wants redemption — he wants to die, he says, in a state of grace.

But he's also, as actions early in the film indicate, a cold-blooded killer, capable of doing whatever needs to be done to maintain his safety, always followed by a prayer for forgiveness. The hit men pursuing him are seeking justice for the seven who died in 1944; the judge, Annemarie Livi (Swinton), assisted by Col. Roux (Northam), is set on exposing the church for its role in hiding Brossard. The fates of the various characters swirl together as they draw closer to the film's ultimate showdown.

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

**
"The Statement," with Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Alan Bates, Charlotte Rampling, John Neville. Directed by Norman Jewison, from a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on the novel by Brian Moore III. 120 minutes. Rated R for violence. Several theaters.

"The Statement" was made with the very best of intentions; there's a sense of moral rightness throughout, of addressing long-simmering wrongs. (Though Brossard is a fictional character, the story is based on true events that happened in Nazi-occupied France, under the Vichy regime. Many of the Vichy government were prosecuted after the war ended; some were not.) But the movie feels slow and lifeless. Jewison's sense of pacing is way off here; there seems to be just one mood — a sort of suspenseful intensity — that never varies, ultimately dragging the film down into monotony.

Perhaps Jewison sensed this; voice-overs in the film (by Caine) seem like a late addition. But though we know Caine is capable of playing complex, deeply troubled characters (see his beautiful work in "The Quiet American"), we never get a sense of who Brossard really is; the film is too busy tracking him through monasteries and small French towns.

And the splendid cast is too often shuffled on and off. Rampling, her harsh delivery as dry as unbuttered toast, makes a too-brief appearance as Brossard's estranged wife, now bound to him by hatred. Swinton, flicking her cigarette ash with almost military precision, stays on one note throughout. And Alan Bates, in his final movie appearance, brings elegant ambiguity to the tiny role of Bertier, a government official concerned about Livi's investigation.

A final twist in the plot is too little, too late. "The Statement" is intelligent and thought-provoking, but as drama, it fails to live up to its own high expectations.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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