Josh Bell

At the end of Norman Jewison's The Statement, there's a dedication to seven Jews who died in France near the end of World War II. It's striking not necessarily because of its connection to the Holocaust, but rather because of its disconnect to the movie you've just watched. The Statement is clearly meant to be thought-provoking and meaningful, but it's really just a second-rate thriller that cheaply exploits the Holocaust to give itself false meaning.

Veteran director Jewison, who's got a host of socially conscious dramas on his résumé, from In the Heat of the Night to The Hurricane, puts together a stellar cast, and then sets them loose on a weak, uninspired script. Michael Caine plays Pierre Brossard, an aging Frenchman with a secret: He was once a Nazi collaborator and member of the Vichy regime who had seven Jews executed one night in 1944. Arrested after the war, he escaped with the help of a clandestine sect within the Catholic Church and has been on the run ever since. Now another clandestine group—this one appearing to be made up of Jewish Nazi-hunters—is out to kill him, and the French government has assigned a judge (Tilda Swinton) and army colonel (Jeremy Northam) to reopen the investigation. As a conspiracy closes in, Pierre races to save his life while the judge and the colonel race to bring him to justice.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Rightly, it should be; a thinking-man's thriller that combines suspense with a morality play. Except the morality is simplistic and the suspense nonexistent. With equal time given to Brossard and his pursuers, it's never clear who we're supposed to root for, and there aren't any surprises as to whether they'll catch up to each other or not. Brossard runs through a tour of beautiful French abbeys, coming across characters who randomly pop up and then disappear the same way, making it hard to invest emotion in any of them. The brilliant Charlotte Rampling breathes life into the film for about 10 minutes as Brossard's wife, and then is promptly forgotten.

Add on the fact that every French person is played by a British actor with a British accent, and you've got a film that just plain doesn't work. It's stilted, turgid and boring, and no amount of pretty scenery, stately actors or faux-seriousness can save it.

  • Get More Stories from Thu, Jan 29, 2004
Top of Story