Movie review in the Friday, March 19 Oregonian....
If you're going to name your movie "The Statement," then you really ought to make one.
Mind you, director Norman Jewison's adaptation of Brian Moore's acclaimed novel has all the elements of a "message movie." There's genocide, for starters. The film centers on tortured Frenchman Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine, not even trying to sound French) -- a man who's been hiding for 40 years after helping the Nazis kill Jews during the Vichy regime.
Then, to stoke the message-movie fire, Jewison piles on the corruption: Brossard's been protected for decades by a right-wing Catholic order -- a conspiracy "at the highest levels of power."
Finally, Jewison throws in some hypocrisy. Brossard refuses to face justice for his crimes -- "I don't want to be locked up in a cell with the rest of my lot!" he gibbers -- but he also wants to remain in a "state of grace," forgiven by God for his sins. But it's impossible for the waddling, sweating Brossard to even look graceful when he's killing assassins from a Jewish revenge squad -- or fleeing a pair of French officials who want to bring him to justice (Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam, neither of them trying to sound French, either).
It sounds like a potent stew -- and it's being stirred by the director of "In the Heat of the Night," and "Fiddler on the Roof," which inspires hope. But "The Statement" ends up being a surprisingly tedious blah-inducer.
The screenplay (by Ronald Harwood) only skims the surface of Moore's novel -- we never get a sense of what drove Brossard to evil. Instead, we get a sense of Brossard driving his car. As he putters from safe house to safe house, he blandly lurches between remorseful loser and stone-cold killer -- without any of the connective tissue that makes for a fully formed character. In one scene, for example, Brossard threatens to kill his estranged wife's dog, which he named after the dead brother he apparently sold out to the Nazis. But the very next time we see them, they're in bed together -- and the wife (Charlotte Rampling) is comforting him after a nightmare in which he's plagued by visions of dead Jews. It’s whiplash-inducing.
Meanwhile, Swinton and Northam go from one pointless meeting to another like they're in some chatty BBC telefilm. Even the Catholic-baiting conspiracy theory at the movie's center -- a charged issue, to say the least -- ends up being little more than dully offensive. (It doesn’t help that the drippy conspirators are led by actor John Neville -- who also led the drippy conspirators in "The X-Files.")
Swinton, a good actress, comes off here as a poor man's Cate Blanchett -- storming in and out of rooms, her early-'90s k.d. lang hair-don't flooping in her face. (And it's not just hair: The movie rings false on all sorts of little details -- right down to the way the word "STATEMENT" is stamped on a death warrant at a jaunty, overly-designed angle.) Every other actor in the film, including the great Northam, looks and sounds bored -- it really feels like they all took the gig so they could hang out in the French countryside, where much of the movie is set. None of the passion befitting the subject matter is onscreen.
In its coda, "The Statement" is dedicated to the 77,000 French Jews who died under the Vichy regime. It's a noble gesture, but it's also a little insulting -- given that the murder of Jews ends up being little more than a character prop in this profoundly dreary film.
(120 minutes; rated R for violence) Grade: C