The Statement

April, 2004, Drama

Producer/director Norman Jewison epitomizes the phrase "Hollywood veteran". In a long and successful career, he's been associated with such notable films as the original Thomas Crown Affair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Moonstruck and The Soldier's Story. Nearing his 78th birthday, he shows no signs of slowing down or selecting subjects solely because they might appeal to a mass audience. In Statement, he seems to have material perfectly suited to his eclectic tastes; a manhunt for a Vichy-era collaborator, adapted from the book of the same name by popular novelist Brain Moore. The film's screenplay was written by Ronald Harwood, a South African playwright and screenwriter whose earlier successes include Cry The Beloved Country and 2002's brilliant The Pianist. With an extraordinary British cast including Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Alan Bates, Charlotte Rampling and Frank Finlay and featuring the stunning French countryside of Provance, Jewison's latest should have been simply wonderful-- yet it only manages to be intermittently interesting. Why? The fault, dear reader, is not in the stars, but in their lines…

Moore's story traces the war-time atrocities of Pierre Brossard, (Caine), a French collaborator who first identifies and then supervises the killing of French Jews for the German controllers of the puppet-French Vichy government. Because of his close association with members of the Roman Catholic priesthood and participation in a secret society that includes both clergymen and members of the post-war French government, Brossard is initially pardoned for his participation, then subsequently indicted under the terms of a law governing "crimes against humanity". As Brossard has long since "gone to ground" with the help of his clerical friends, the tricky job of finding and trying him is assigned to a short-tempered judge (Swinton) and an Army colonel (Northam). But they aren't the only ones hot on the fugitive's trail; he's also being stalked by assassins who seek to plant a statement on his corpse which indicates that he's finally been held accountable for his crimes against the Jews of France. 

Jewison establishes this plot in opening scenes of taut power, efficiency and stunning surprise, but having established his story's manhunt premise, he allows the following 2 hours to wander off into the introduction of so many of Brossard's accomplices that the audience is soon lost in the complexities of the fugitive's movements without ever discovering just why this arch-conservative Catholic generated so much sympathy and protection from those who would have been just as happy if he's immigrated to Paraguay. Caine's Brossard, cunning, vicious, tormented by his past and sniveling in the presence of his priestly collaborators remains a cipher throughout the story's unfolding, his motivations as obscure as those of the collaborators who give him aid and comfort despite the demands of the Church's hierarchy that he be given no further assistance. He moves from parsonage to abbey to cathedral to monastery so often the film assumes the chase itself is exciting enough to hold the viewer's interest and also sufficiently clear about the characters' motivations as well. Only a passing reference by a French cardinal, (that "Godless Communism" was a threat which concerned the Church far more than Nazism during the war) offers a hint of the powerful theme Jewison deals with here; surely he could have elaborated on his character's convictions more thoroughly,  providing his audience with an examination of the Church's deplorable role in facilitating wartime anti-Semitism. That would a movie worthy of this director’s talents.

Instead, we're treated to an exposition of facts meant to speak for themselves. It just doesn't wash; the fine cast lumbers through their lines, trying to inject meaning into them, but they do little more than propel the action forward, conveying movement but ignoring rationale. By disclosing the identify of the mysterious group racing to eliminate Brossard before the judge and her troops can bring him to court, Jewison gives his audience little in which to remain interested. 

Despite solid cinematography and an interesting premise, Statement limps to a concluson with little excitement and even less comprehension. All that talent in the cinematic kitchen to whet our appetites…but what a meager meal on the screen!  

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