Throughout the 20th Century, countless countries were scarred by the sting of war and the tragic loss of live that came with it. While the second world war was responsible for taking millions of lives in less than a decade, “The
Statement” takes the time to concentrate on just seven lives that were unjustly taken during an occupation that clearly was run by hatred and bigotry. Based on the novel by Brian Moore, director Norman Jewison brings a powerful and engaging film to the big screen with a story about atrocities, justice and even forgiveness to the big screen. Carried by the stellar acting of Michael Caine, the movie is a lot more interesting and deep than I had originally thought it would be. I found myself fully engaged in the film as it dived very deep issues, taking a critical glance at both France’s occupation during the second world war as well as the church’s stance of that occupation at the same time. It’s a surprisingly good film that amazing its viewers with stunning actors, breathtaking scenery and a storyline that while basic expands to bigger issues that leave one thinking about many things on their way out. It’s a stirring drama that while flawed in some parts is good and definitely worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something deep and highly thought provoking.
Michael Caine delivers an outstanding performance as Pierre Brossard, an elderly frenchman with an ugly history of willingly aiding the Nazis occupation of France during the second world war. Even though he was granted a pardon by government officials for their own personal reasons,
Brossard is still on the run and hiding from police and military officers who wish to charge him with new crimes. His paranoia isn’t helped much when a hired assassin tries to take his life. We learn that a renegade Israeli vigilante group is out to avenge the deaths of those who were killed by Pierre during the Nazi occupation. This makes things tough for the police, who are intent on taking him in alive. A devout Christian, Pierre seeks absolution and a place to hide from those who want to kill or capture him within the safe and discreet confines of the church. Wandering from one parish to another over a span of forty years, Pierre’s age and health starts to catch up with him as the cat and mouse games leave the elderly man wheezing and gasping for breath for only doing the simplest of tasks such as climbing a few stairs.
Caine’s performance is also quite stunning because his character isn’t a nice person, and he doesn’t even try to be. From kicking dogs, to shooting would be assassins with the intent to kill… Pierre is a dirt bag in the lowest form. The audience at times is revolted by this character’s mere existence, but realize that he’s a small piece to a much larger puzzle that other characters want to solve, thus he’s needed to their greater good. Yet we have zero compassion for Pierre since he’s one of the bad guys. His pursuit by both police and hired killers, however, makes for an interesting story as Pierre worms his way out of each situation. Caine was simply perfect as a groveling little snot who used his religion as both a mental and physical place to shelter himself away from not only the real world but the reality of his situation. He really only cares about himself and his own absolution, everyone else is just below him which gives us the impression that much of his religious interest might just be a front in order for others to pity to him and offer to help his flight from justice. Caine plays the vile dirt bag quite well.
Hot on the trail of this fugitive is Judge Levy, a strong willed woman (played well by Tilda Swinton) who is clearly obsessed with bringing Brossard to face a new prosecution for ‘crimes against humanity’ which had recently been filed. Along with a colonel from the army to assist her, Levy tries her best to track down Brossard not only to bring him in for charges, but with the hopes that he would reveal the others who took part in his atrocities and were funding him to stay quiet. Swinton’s performance is average, yet interesting as she did her best to give us the impression that her character was all business and was not on a personal witch hunt. She wanted to bring closure to a dark part of her country’s history and that’s all she wanted to accomplish even though her actions were that of a desperate and obsessed looney.
Other supporting cast members made this film an impressive ensemble piece. Jeremy Northam’s performance as the French Colonel made for an admirable sidekick. His chemistry with Swinton was good, and while there were many hints of a possible sexual subplot… the characters chose to stick to the task at hand their relationship seemed to remain strictly professional. Another brief, yet standout performance came from Charlotte Rampling who took on the small yet interesting role as Brossard’s estranged wife. While she was in very little of the film, she came off as a caring yet distant lady who had to still be threatened to take in her estranged husband.
The direction of this film while predictable in some parts was interesting to watch unfold. You know a director is doing his job if he can make a chase scene involving a seventy-year-old man look suspenseful and exciting. The chases are not insulting either as there are no high speed races through town nor is are there any long distance, barely breaking a sweat foot races. What we have instead is a cunning little rat who manages to elude his chasers merely by hiding or carefully slipping out of site. Caine’s character manages to slither his way out of almost every situation, showing no respect for anyone except himself… the only person he truly cares about.
Yet the film is not without flaws. While the story is indeed interesting, we are not given too much depth into Pierre’s motives for doing what he did. While some basic reasons for his joining the occupation are hinted on once in a while, they never really fully developed or explored in great detail. Another gripe would be the lacking of a romantic storyline. There’s nothing wrong with not having one in a film, but if you’re going to avoid it… it would be best if you didn’t tease the audience with the possibility of one.
Swinton was showing off a her legs quite often and oozed of sex appeal, which is all right but distracting if it has nothing to do with any part of the plot what so ever. If it was the intent of the writers and the director to go without a romantic storyline, simple stuff like buttoning up a shirt and replacing a very, very short skirt with pants would have made the judge look more professional, and it could have helped the audience take her character more seriously.
The French accents or lack there of was a little distracting at first, but was easily dismissed as the film progressed. I could gripe about the lack of respect for the French language, which is of course one of the most beautiful dialects on the planet, but the fact is many films based in
France (Quills, Man In the Iron Mask… just off the top of my head) also don’t bother to make that kind of effort either, so it would be futile to gripe about it here as well. One part in this movie that caused me to burst into hysterical laughter was when Pierre was given a plane ticket to Quebec. Pierre smiles and says, “They speak French there… don’t they?” This comment caused many people in the audience to laugh with me, because we were all under the impression that they spoke French in France as well. It was a fact we were willing to dismiss for two hours until we were reminded of it with this very foolish comment.
One element of the film that showed great potential was the film’s criticism of the church and it’s involvement of hiding Brossard and other people like him. The film hints at attacking the church and its credibility, especially it’s stance on the occupation during the second world war… but back peddles before making any profound statements. Instead, the film makes a cop out by blaming ‘radical’ religious sects for the reason why Brossard was able to hide, even though the church as a whole probably could’ve really been involved based on their history throughout the war. It was a can of worms that would have been interesting to toss into the equation, but was again only hinted at and never really fully explored. There are a lot of issues that are only hinted at but never followed through on, and while I’m sure this is how things work in real life… it would be nice if we actually got a few loose ends tied up rather than having a lot of things left unresolved.
While the film’s attempt to be mysterious was a little lame and very predictable, I found most of “The Statement” to be entertaining and very thought provoking. I enjoyed the performances delivered by the cast, especially from Michael Caine who can’t seem to do anything wrong. He carries this film with a performance that delivers the goods as Pierre is both pitied and disgusting which is probably about as complex as you can get. It’s a eye opening film that while not answering much asks the questions that make one think and look back at the scars that still remain from a century of some of history’s most brutal wars. It proves beyond a reasonable doubt that not everything is as black and white as many would like to believe it is. There are layers and layers of grey stacked beyond belief, and this film looks at just a few that possible exist. It’s an interesting story that is worth hearing and checking. “The Statement” is a decent drama carried by great acting and a tale that definitely leaves you with something to think about.