Dir: Norman Jewison. Canada/France/UK. 2003. 120 mins.
As enticingly cast and classically executed as it is, there's something naggingly unsatisfying about The Statement, a religio-political thriller directed by Norman Jewison and adapted by Ronald Harwood from the acclaimed 1996 novel by Canadian author Brian Moore. Co-produced by a string of international partners (but shot in English), the film might still attract older international audiences, who will be drawn by its dark historical themes, attractive French settings and impressive roster - led by Michael Caine - of mostly British acting talent. In the US, though, where it had its world premiere at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival and where it will be released next month by Sony Pictures Classics, The Statement risks getting lost in the awards season glut of older-skewing quality drama.
The story, set in modern day France and inspired by actual events, turns around Caine's Pierre Brossard, who as a young man working with the Nazi occupiers of France during World War II had ordered the execution of seven Jews. In the decades since, he has lived in a series of secluded abbeys and priories in the south of France and escaped prosecution thanks to help from clandestine far-right elements in the French government and Catholic Church. But now two groups of pursuers are closing in: one is apparently a Jewish vigilante organisation out to execute Brossard for his war crime; the other, which wants to bring Brossard to official justice, is headed by ambitious Paris judge Anne Marie Livi (Swinton) and scrupulous gendarme Colonel Roux (Northam).
Like the novel, the film has a lot of minor characters and a swift pace, as it follows the increasingly desperate Brossard from one potential refuge to another. It works well enough as a fairly restrained chase thriller and it manages to avoid over-exploiting its pretty Provencal settings.
Unfortunately, however, the multitude of characters is sometimes confusing and the pace doesn't give Harwood (who dealt with similar issues in his Oscar-winning script for The Pianist) much chance to explore the themes of guilt, redemption and betrayal that distinguish Moore's novel. There's also a certain lack of edge in the drama: Brossard's bigotry seems to have been toned down in the transition from page to screen and here he comes across more as a pathetic old man than a chilling anti-Semite. A few moments - as when Livi and Roux get into some mildly flirtatious banter - even make the film feel incongruously like a TV mystery movie.
Caine turns in a convincing, always watchable performance as the frightened yet still dangerous Brossard, but the film doesn't push him to anything like the level that last year's somewhat comparable The Quiet American did. Swinton (from Young Adam and The Deep End) and Northam (from Gosford Park) are questionably cast in their roles, the former seeming too young for her character.
The large supporting cast includes Rampling (whose French career should give the film a little extra help in that territory), who does a nice job as Brossard's abandoned and downtrodden wife; Bates in a brief appearance as a French government minister; Neville the story's arch villain; and an uncredited Frank Finlay as Brossard's former commissaire.
Prod cos: Serendipity Point Films in association with Odessa Films, Company Pictures, Astral Media, Corus Entertainment, Telefilm Canada, Sony Pictures Classics, Movision, BBC Films
US dist: Sony Pictures Classics
Intl sales: Summit Entertainment
Prods: Robert Lantos, Norman Jewison
Exec prods: David M Thompson, Mark Musselman, Jason Piette, Michael Cowan
Scr: Ronald Harwood, based on the novel by Brian Moore
Cinematography: Kevin Jewison
Prod des: Jean Rabasse
Eds: Steven Rivkin, Andrew S Eisen
Music: Normand Corbeil
Main cast: Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Northam, Charlotte Rampling, Alan Bates, William Hutt, John Neville, Matt Craven