“The Statement,” a 120 minute, 2003 film, is a violent, dark, suspenseful picture. It’s a political thriller/crime drama, an independent production, apparently put together by Canadian/French/British studios –I see mention made of the CBC and the BBC—and it cost $23 million to make. Yet, despite a plethora of talent before and behind the cameras, including its Oscar-winning star Michael Caine, it lost $22 million. An odd case, that. Still, I found it an interesting film. It was made onsite, in France, and gives us lots of beautiful French Riviera scenery. In addition, someone connected with the film’s art department has given us some ravishingly lovely art nouveau set dressing; all the bars look so beautiful you’d gladly live in them, and there’s an old-fashioned glass elevator door that’s just heart stopping. Another oddity of the film: despite the fact that it is set in France, and tells a story set in France, it was made with an entirely British cast, who do not attempt those funny “continental” accents; on one of the disk’s extras, the director says he believes British actors can play continental particularly well, and he doesn’t think those accents are really appropriate: the French speaking French in their own country don’t speak with accents. During World War II, Frenchman Pierre Brossard, who collaborated happily with his country’s Nazi occupiers and the Vichy government they created, murdered 14 Jews. Many years later, in the early 1990’s, it's his turn to be the prey again, as he was after war’s end, when a new law punishing ‘crimes against humanity,’ is passed. A Nazi hunter, the police and hired killers pick up his trail. The Oscar-winning Caine, the world’s favorite cockney actor – some might think him an odd casting choice for this role—plays the protagonist Brossard. Caine, who took home Hollywood’s favorite statuette for HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, and BAT MAN, was, he says in the disk’s extras, after a low period in his career, in the midst of a great career revival. Odd casting or not, he gives another brilliant performance, pretty much carrying the picture. His character is a many-faceted one- a pious, religious man, devout Catholic and cold- blooded Nazi war criminal. Caine downplays his considerable natural charm and humor, and gives us a vivid portrait of a conflicted, disturbed, frightening man: he remarks in the extras that though he has played rather few villains in his long, sterling career, he was able to play this one, as people seldom think themselves monsters. Whatever, he still has his characteristic cockney walk, and I still think him one of the greatest actors alive. The much-admired Scottish actress Tilda Swinton( THE DEEP END, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA) plays Annemarie Livi, French judge with a Jewish father. (French judges have many more powers than American or British, including the ability to investigate and follow cases.) Handsome Jeremy Northam (THE TUDORS) plays Colonel Roux, whom Livi taps to work with her on the case. Alan Bates (OLIVERS TRAVELS, WOMEN IN LOVE) plays Armand Bertier, high French official, who has a long standing friendship with the Livi family. The beautiful and mysterious actress Charlotte Rampling, who jump-started her career with Luchino Visconti’s THE DAMNED, and then THE NIGHT PORTER, before moving to France to live with her French musician husband Maurice Jarre, and play in several successful French films, is wasted in the small part of Brossard’s wife Nicole. Other well-known British players, including John Neville, Ciaran Hinds, Frank Finlay, Malcolm Sinclair, Edward Petherbridge, Colin Salmon and David de Keyser round out the cast in supporting roles. Thank goodness, the disk has subtitles, as all these well-bred Britishers never raise their voices. The film was directed by the talented, Canadian-born Norman Jewison (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, MOONSTRUCK, HEAT OF THE NIGHT). It was based on the novel of the same name, which was apparently based on a true story, by the Irish-Canadian novelist/screenwriter Brian Moore (THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE, TORN CURTAIN, THE LUCK OF GINGER COFFEY). He was said to be the favorite young writer of the extraordinary Graham Greene, the Catholic convert novelist who explored his new religion until his death. And who else but an Irishman such as Moore would dare to show the Church in such an unflattering light? The South African born actor/screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, also an Oscar winner (THE PIANIST, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY), penned the script. Well, all this talent has put together a confusing, badly-organized motion picture. But it’s worth seeing once, particularly if you are a Michael Caine fan, as am I.
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