"Michael Caine is a revelation!" declares the Jeffrey Lyons quote currently appearing on ads for The Statement. Lyons is right, but not in the way you might expect. Indeed, Caine's performance here is revelatory -- who knew he could be this boring? Insufferable, yes -- Oscar aside, his mangled "American" accent in The Cider House Rules induced my walking out halfway through (behavior not to be condoned if one is actually reviewing the film, though in this case, I wasn't). But has he ever been this coma-inducing? Even Jaws: The Revenge was kind of lively.
Caine's character in this movie is a retired French Nazi named Pierre Brossard, but he doesn't try the accent thing again. It's kind of a no-win situation, though. Caine talking like Inspector Clouseau would be laughable, but the flashback sequence that kicks things off -- in which a young, SS-gear-clad man with Caine's voice intones in perfect Cockney, "Get your pants down! C'mon, get your pricks out!" to a bunch of Jewish prisoners -- risks risibility big-time. Still, laughing at the movie would be an emotional response, and such a thing is difficult to muster.
Based on a popular suspense novel by Brian Moore, which in turn was based on the true story of a war criminal named Paul Touvier, The Statement would seem on paper to be a winner. Make any movie that involves the Holocaust in some way, put Michael Caine in it, and one is guaranteed some of that elusive "Oscar buzz," if only for a few fleeting moments before anyone actually sees the thing. Director Norman Jewison caught a brief taste of that a few years back with The Hurricane, then became mired in controversy over plot details that may have been exaggerated for the sake of drama. This may explain why such drama is conspicuously lacking this time around.
Watching the film, one imagines South Park's guidance counselor Mr. Mackey standing over one's shoulder, going, "Nazis are bad, m'kay? They killed Jews, m'kay? And French people are worse, because if they're not Nazis, they're socialists, m'kay? M'kay -- oh, and Catholics are bad, too." Yes, the pope's religion comes in for a cinematic bashing one more time. Not to say it's necessarily undeserved in some cases, but if you want an engrossing movie about the church's role in ignoring the Holocaust, Costa-Gavras' Amen, released last year and now available on DVD, has more profound things to say on the subject. Amen, however, is a historical film, while The Statement implies that in the present day, high-ranking officials in the French Catholic church may still be helping war criminals to hide out.
Brossard certainly seems to reside mainly in monasteries, where he periodically has minor heart attacks and prays to crucifixes. But of late he realizes that he's being followed. Unbeknownst to him, the "statement" of the title is a typed note to be placed upon his dead body, explaining that he's been executed for war crimes that the church tried to cover up, but we don't know who specifically is planning to off Brossard prior to leaving the note.
Meanwhile, in legal circles, Brossard is being pursued by a judge (Tilda Swinton) and a colonel (Jeremy Northam), both of whom have French names (Annemarie Livi and Roux, respectively) and English accents. Brossard was pardoned years ago, but a new "crimes against humanity" law has just been passed, and Livi hopes to use it to catch Brossard and use him to flush out higher-ranking ex-Nazis in the government, like whoever it was who pardoned Brossard in the first place.
There's a nice little bit of business when Brossard first discovers a would-be assassin -- Caine has referred to it in interviews as the world's slowest car chase -- but from then on, we're left to follow the movements of the none-too-lively Brossard, as he prays (hypocritically), seizes up, takes pills, and moves on. Only when we cut back to the non-dimensional Swinton and Northam do we realize that the elderly fugitive is vaguely interesting by comparison. Then we get a brief spark of hope when Brossard looks up his ex-wife, and she turns out to be Charlotte Rampling, but mostly the star of Swimming Pool just glowers (admittedly very well) as her ex tells her, "Do as you're told, and you'll be happy." Then he kicks their dog. You know, because otherwise we'd never figure out he's a bad guy.
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