Top positive review
26 people found this helpful
Caine does ambiguity well
on 1 September 2004
Although his films aren't always artistic successes, Michael Caine is one of my favorite actors, and at his best when his character is cheekily likable, e.g. in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975), SLEUTH (1972), SECONDHAND LIONS (2003). Rarely, he plays someone hateful, the most recent coming to mind being SHINER (2000). Here, in THE STATEMENT, his on-screen persona is oddly ambiguous, and it's left to supporting characters to provide the plot's protagonists.
It's June 1942, and a young Vichy French police officer, Pierre Brossard, supervises the round-up and execution of seven Jews by a contingent of German soldiers. After the war, he's charged with murder and collaboration with the enemy, but he escapes from prison, apparently aided by former superiors in the police establishment. Now, it's 1992, and Brossard (Michael Caine) lives in constant fear of exposure. A fervent Catholic, he skulks from French monastery to monastery, wherein he finds refuge with the help of sympathetic abbots and Church officials. A retired, former police official provides regular payments of money for frugal, day-to-day living. Now, Brossard is apparently being pursued by Jewish activists bent on his assassination. And if he hasn't worries enough, the French Justice Ministry has assigned a judge, Annemarie Livi (Tilda Swinton), and a police investigator, Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam), to track Pierre down and take him into custody charged with war crimes. Are the two events related?
Pierre's wartime atrocity and his cold-hearted willingness to protect himself at any cost in the present are unlikely to endear him to the audience. On the other hand, the nature of the conspiracy against him by sinister forces, his failing health, and his sincere, if somewhat pathetic, religiousness render him an individual of some ambiguity. In the end, while Livi and Roux are the characters the viewer will naturally root for, Brossard will attract some small amount of sympathy because, perhaps, it's the popular Michael Caine in the role.
For me, the biggest problem with this otherwise reasonably intelligent film is the casting. Caine's Cockney British accent is never entirely submerged, and the other main roles have gone to Brits, most obviously Northam and Swinton. This is, after all, supposed to be France, but it might as well have been rural Hampshire! And it's never made clear why both the Church and powerful members of the government found it necessary or desirable to protect such a low-level Vichy functionary for so long anyway. Some conspiracies play better as fiction, and the Church is an ever-popular villain, especially if the Jesuits or a rogue cardinal or two are involved.
THE STATEMENT justly rates three stars, but I'm bumping it up a notch solely for Caine's performance (despite the accent). Northam and Swinton are also both effective.
One of the DVD's special features is an interview with Michael, in which he reveals that he was attracted to the Brossard role simply because he's rarely asked to play an unpleasant character not softened by his trademark cheeky humor. (I guess he forgot about SHINER!)