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Seasoned Ticket, The Scarecrow Wire

The Seasoned Ticket #254: Norman Jewison's THE STATEMENT

Posted February 2nd 2024

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. This series of "critic's notes" is chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connect them to the riches of Scarecrow's collection.

Norman Jewison died on January 20th, the appreciation was widespread; the Canadian director seemed to have been a real mensch. He never got the critical acclaim of his most-lauded peers, and that was appropriate, but he left behind a handful of very entertaining movies along with a number of duds. When I would read a mention of his final feature, The Statement, I thought "Gee, I guess I missed that one," and even when I looked at my records and realized I had not only seen it but also reviewed it (for The Herald in 2004), I couldn't remember a single thing about it. (I blame the exceedingly generic title.) Anyway, here's the review, in which I extol Michael Caine's performance, worry about Tilda Swinton getting typecast, and note Alan Bates's final feature role. Scarecrow has it for rent, needless to say.

The Statement

Michael Caine is so good in The Statement, he makes you forget about an otherwise giggle-producing fact: this most Cockney of actors is playing a Frenchman.

That's a strange concept. In his roles as an American, Cider House Rules, for instance, he attempts an accent; here, he's just Cockney. But Caine's performance, by turns lethal, frightened, shifty, devout, and arrogant, is enough to carry the day.

The Statement doesn't rise to his level, although it has an efficiency that makes it easy to watch. The opening is grabby: in a small town in southern France, Pierre Brossard (that's Caine) is silently hunted by an assassin. In a startling moment, Brossard coolly turns the tables.

The reason for this cat-and-mouse game? Brossard is a war criminal, accused of participating in a massacre in a French town in 1944. These decades later, he remains a marked man. It is the movie's thesis, based on a similar true story, that the French government and the Catholic church colluded to protect people like Brossard. In the film, Brossard receives shelter, encouragement, and even prescription drugs from the church.

The failed assassination flushes him out of his cozy resting place. On his trail are two investigators, played by Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam. These smart actors struggle to get something going, but their roles are threadbare (and Swinton, who was in The Deep End in 2002, is in danger of getting typecast as a tiger lady).

Swinton does have a couple of tasty moments with Alan Bates, the splendid English actor who died just a couple of weeks ago. Bates plays a government official who smilingly but firmly warns her against digging too deeply into Brossard's connections to the church.

For the most part, our focus is on Brossard, who scurries from hiding place to hiding place, often in the sanctuary of a Catholic monastery. The film doesn't spare the Catholic church, which is still fending off accusations of complicity with the occupying Nazi regime in France during WWII.

Director Norman Jewison and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (the Oscar winner for "The Pianist") keep the action tripping along. Brossard's frantic flight is a lot more compelling than the dry pursuit, however. Caine keeps it engaging, with a performance both pathetic and monstrous. His Brossard is a man deranged by years of denial, guilt, and displacement: he's sloppily sentimental when it comes to his religious beliefs, yet he's capable of threatening his wife with brutal coercion. It's a vivid depiction of a rat caught in a maze of his own making.

February 2, 2024