Canadian director Norman Jewison’s new film The Statement begins with a simple idea at the center of the story and then pulls back even further to reveal the societal implications of the event in question.
At the center of the story is Pierre Brossard (the ubiquitous Michael Caine), a man who is responsible for the execution of seven Jews while collaborating with the Nazis in Vichy France. While Brossard is seemingly repentant for his crimes, the story moves to involve him in a plot that reveals the true aspects of his character, and here he becomes the hub around which a larger story unfolds.
When a rogue Jewish group starts hunting him down, alongside the legitimate arms of the law out for justice, Brossard travels through a path of powerful allies, starting first with the Catholic church that has sheltered him for years, and then gradually to the highest reaches of France’s power elite.
Central to the story is the legitimate investigation of the plucky young magistrate Annemarie Levi (played by indie cinema heroine Tilda Swinton) and her handsome army colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam), who begin to attempt to re-try Brossard in a court of law for his crimes, but find themselves faced with obstacles that his protective web throws up at every step. Here is the dominant plot-while the camera follows Caine’s character moving through France, it is the cat-and-mouse game that really takes the most time in the film.
The Statement is the kind of film that they don’t make anymore. It’s a thriller along the lines of All the President’s Men or any of Hitchcock’s early British films, where the story begins with one element and then expands to implicate every cornerstone of society. This is both a strength and a weakness of this film, for while it begins with important and weighty subject matter, when it shifts its focus from this core subject, the conventions of genre take over. In this respect, the sexual tension between the judge and the colonel become as important to the plot as anything else, and softens the impact of the actual original event.
While everyone does a solid job in The Statement (Caine is especially good as the repentant/unrepentant ex-killer), as it goes on it seems to lose of some the validity of its original premise. Even though it illuminates the larger responsibilities of a power structure bent on protecting themselves by protecting Brossard, one can’t help but think that perhaps the film could have been a little less light. Not necessarily another Schindler’s List, but it’s almost as if The Statement uses the original slaughter in order to exploit the roller-coaster ride of the thriller genre, something that didn’t sit all that well with this critic, nor, I expect, with audiences.