Ronin was praised as an old-fashioned thriller. The Statement is likewise a genuine ’70s-type thriller. It’s not as fast-moving as The Day of the Jackal or The Boys from Brazil. Its star, Michael Caine can’t move that quickly anymore, particularly playing a character who is almost 70. But there are rooftop-hopping scenes, shadowy tails, and sudden, violent showdowns. The Statement has the right spirit of tension, Europe-hopping, espionage, and double-crosses. It just happens to be played like a 45 at 33 1/3.
One Bad Turn Deserves Another
R for Violence
Caine plays Broussard, a Frenchman and a former Nazi collaborator during WWII. The movie opens on a flashback to the scene of his worst crime. In 1944, with his Vichy unit, he rounded up seven French Jews (the movie shows him sparing an eighth and ninth). He turned them over to the occupying Nazis, who then ordered him to execute the prisoners. It has haunted him the rest of his life.
But The Statement is set in 1992. Broussard is still alive, living off the generosity of his friends and colleagues, most of whom are connected through the Catholic church.
A good, long, tense scene shows that someone is tailing him. He doesn’t know who, but he knows it can’t be good. It turns out his tail is an assassin, with a written statement to the effect that Broussard will have been executed for being a Nazi collaborator. Perhaps some Jewish revenge group sent him?
Perspectives on Tension
The Statement’s other two lead characters are Anne-Marie Levy and Colonel Roux (Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam). They are a judge and an army colonel, respectively, assigned to find Broussard so that he can be tried for his crimes. (Rounding out the great European cast are Charlotte Rampling, Ciarán Hinds, and Alan Bates in his last movie role). When told from Levy & Roux’s point of view, the tension comes because we want Levy and Roux to find Broussard before the assassin group does.
When told from Broussard’s point of view, the tension comes because two groups are chasing him. Caine plays terrified and paranoid very well. Broussard’s heart disease kicks in, making the stress of his many flights all the more tense. He sweats at the drop of a hat and kisses his many St. Christopher medallions.
Internally, he’s haunted by the faces of those he killed. In his dreams, they turn to him before he kills them, as though identifying him before God. He doesn’t want to live the rest of his life in prison, nor does he want to die. But more than anything, he wants to die in a state of grace. He wants absolution from God, because he cannot find it on Earth.
Shades of Gray
Interestingly, there are people who can forgive him, even if he himself cannot. A Monsignor interviewed by the judge and the soldier supplies an important perspective on Broussard and his crimes.
He says that, at the time, things weren’t so black and white. He praises Broussard for fighting the communists, whom he calls “Antichrists.” He reminds the judge, the soldier, and the audience, that he and Broussard are from a different generation. In essence, he says “who are you to judge, you who were not even born when the crime took place?”
Without this perspective, (and the casting of good-guy Michael Caine as the Nazi collaborator), the movie would be a lot more shallow, and a lot less interesting.
A couple of scenes are overdramatized. While on the run, Broussard returns to his ex-wife’s house in Marseilles. There, he bullies her into helping him. But we don’t know anything about their relationship, and so the threats seem not only toothless but out-of-character. After all, the movie has been trying to get us to sympathize with Broussard.
Also, someone seems to be leaking Broussard’s location to the assassin group. The movie makes it clear who the snitch is by giving him such obvious dialogue that someone as smart as Broussard would know in a minute he wasn’t on the level. But the plot requires Broussard be oblivious, and so he is. The Statement is also one of those odd films in which the Germans speak German but the French speak English, which is mildly distracting. The movie can be easily forgiven, but some people are driven nuts by this sort of thing, so it is worth mentioning.
But all of these specific nitpicks are trumped by the tension, the slow boil Jewison brings to the screen. The Statement is not as good as The Day of the Jackal or The Boys from Brazil, but it is certainly good enough for a trip to the theater. If you’re caught up on your 2003 year-enders and are looking for something good among the January dregs, give The Statement a try.