[Screen It]


(2003) (Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton) (R)

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Drama: A former Nazi war criminal goes on the run from both assassins and French officials who want him captured.
It's 1992 Provence, France and Pierre Brossard (MICHAEL CAINE) is a man on the run. Fifty years earlier, he was an officer who participated in the execution of seven Jews under orders of the Vichy government. Despite being captured, he escaped before facing justice for his war crimes and was later pardoned by the President.

Since then, however, a new law regarding crimes against humanity has been enacted and Brossard is once again a target. Not only is the government - in the form of magistrate Annemarie Livi (TILDA SWINTON) and her military liaison, Colonel Roux (JEREMY NORTHAM) -- after him, but so is a covert group of assassins who want him dead.

They could be backed by Jewish forces, or they could be an entirely different operation that doesn't want word getting out that various members of a specialized sect of the Catholic Church have been assisting Brossard.

As the Church then tries to distance itself from him and thus cuts off his supplies, the weary war criminal goes on the run again, hoping to avoid being captured or killed.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
With the WWII Memorial under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the race is against the clock to complete it before too many more of the veterans pass away, some fifty years after the war ended.

At the same time, the possibility of finding any additional war criminals from that era also lessens with each passing year. Not surprisingly, however, writers seem intrigued by the concept of former Nazis in hiding, resulting in films such as "The Boys From Brazil," "Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story" and now "The Statement."

In it, Michael Caine stars as such a figure who's on the run from assassins and French inspectors who try to find him and begin investigating the help provided to him by various officials in the Catholic Church. Set in 1992, the story - penned by Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist," "The Browning Version") who's adapted Brian Moore's novel - is loosely based on the real-life murders of seven Jews in 1942 France.

Considering all of those story elements that have been set into place, one might expect an intriguing and/or exciting drama, and/or a potential suspense thriller. Unfortunately, the story and Norman Jewison's ("The Hurricane," "Moonstruck") direction of it are flat, boring and not particularly interesting. Sure, there are some chases, killings, plenty of conspiracy and even a Hitchcock type score by composer Normand Corbeil ("Double Jeopardy," "The Art of War"). Yet, little if any of the story or characters is engaging in the slightest.

Just like the French accents that don't sound right (due to no attempt whatsoever at that, with everyone speaking in English), the film simply fails to work as intended. And that's despite it containing a terrific cast. Beyond the usually reliable Caine ("Secondhand Lions," "The Quiet American"), Tilda Swinton ("The Deep End," "The Beach"") and Jeremy Northam ("Gosford Park," "Enigma") appear as the magistrate and military officer who are on the war criminal's tail.

Burdened with glacial pacing and plenty of dialogue that's either too contrived or on the nose, they simply can't do anything with their characters to make us care about them or their mission. The central key to making the film work, however, lies squarely with Caine's portrayal of his character.

Unfortunately, disappointingly and rather surprisingly, this is one of the acclaimed actor's weaker and less successful performances in a long time. Although some of that can obviously be attributed to how the character is written, Caine simply doesn't nail the part.

Much of that's due to the role's wishy-washy construction. At times, the character is wily, elusive and cunning, with no qualms about dispatching assassins with the greatest of ease (old age notwithstanding). In other moments, however, he comes off as a sniveling coward.

While the latter is understandable - after all, there are few of his kind still around and the noose is progressively tightening around him and his conspirators - it doesn't mesh with the other behavior. The result is an unevenly written and performed character that further weakens an otherwise malformed and botched effort.

Even the so-called detective and investigatory work and pursuit elements are mundane and played without any sort of energy, cleverness or urgency. And the supposedly scathing indictment of the already scandal-ridden Catholic Church turns out to be little more than half-hearted potshots.

All of which means that the film - despite the talent, premise, inherent potential and being dedicated to the seven murdered Jews and others who perished at the hands of the Nazis - is a boring and static effort that never engages the viewer's mind or heart. Lackluster and listless, "The Statement" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed November 25, 2003 / Posted January 30, 2004

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