How could such an intriguing premise make for such a dull movie? The Statement begins promisingly, with a black and white flashback to 1944. A young French officer, working for the Nazi-controlled Vichy military police, executes seven Jews with a cold-blooded vigor that goes beyond merely doing his duty. Then we flash forward to the sunny French countryside in the ’90s, when the same man, now grown old, is being pursued by some presumably Jewish vigilante group for his past crimes. After these two sequences, both of which come to violent conclusions, we’re introduced to two characters who are in more legitimate pursuit of the war criminal, a judge (Tilda Swinton) and an army colonel (Jeremy Northam), and the story immediately — and permanently — slows down while the two have an expository lunch, exchanging plot points over the poached fish.
From here on, much of the dialogue in the movie consists of these kinds of tedious explanations with a few rhetorical interjections that needlessly emphasize the movie’s serious intent. “Unless the truth is brought out into the open,” says Swinton, sounding like a bad pamphleteer, “the dead will never rest easy.” Bull. The dead are dead and it’s the living who have to deal with their restless consciences. And the most restless one here is the war criminal Brossard, played by Michael Caine, who valiantly tries but never quite manages to redeem this dreary tale. Caine, looking a little poached himself, is all sweat and tears and nearly sympathetic as a man who fears for his immortal soul in light of both his past crimes and the ones he must commit in order to survive. Things pick up a bit during a scene between Caine and Charlotte Rampling, as his estranged wife, though you have to wonder about her judgment — she seems distraught that the lovable homicidal maniac she married has become cold and distant.
Director Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck) appears to have, for the most part, instructed his actors to speak as softly as possible, which just contributes to the movie’s flaccidity, while screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) apparently gave up on trying to bring to life the complexities of Brian Moore’s source novel. The movie is so muted that its one major plot twist barely makes an impact and the larger issue of the Roman Catholic Church’s culpability regarding war criminals is embodied by a few stock villains with tired blood.
As Nazi war criminal movies go, this one doesn’t even compare favorably with The Boys from Brazil, a ridiculous piece of pulp fiction that at least had some panache.
At the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Hills. Call 248-855-9091.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.