Thursday, March 18, 2004

Vichy-washy

Movie: The Statement

Posted on Thu, Mar 18, 2004 at 4:00 AM

**
Our Rating: 2.00

This one got dangled in front of VIP audiences two months ago as awards fodder, perhaps because director Norman Jewison once made "Moonstruck" and "The Hurricane," potentially because star Michael Caine still stumbles into a decent film every once in a while and definitely because there was a gaping hole in Oscar's Holocaust/Nazi category. Notice how nobody took the bait? That's because "The Statement" is little more than a rote pursuit thriller, a glorified summer-reading text that verges on tastelessness the closer it gets to its historical underpinnings (which, thankfully, ain't too close).

The movie's mild suspense comes from watching former Vichy capitulator Pierre Brossard (Caine) running from a Jewish revenge group while the forces of the law (Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam) try to exact a less lethal form of justice. Helping Brossard remain in hiding is one of those dogmatic Catholic offshoot sects -- you know, the kind Mel Gibson's dad belongs to. Brossard, who's being ferried from one safe house to the next, is an odd mixture of evil incarnate and an addle-mindedness that goes beyond mere senior citizenship; at one point, he appears unsure if French is spoken in Canada. The absurd moment almost comes off as logical, given that Caine, like most of the other actors in this lazily manufactured entertainment, sounds about as French as you do. (If you yourself are French, feel free to disregard this comment.)

The few occasions in which Jewison and writer Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist") opt for narrative sophistication are drowned out by an overall tendency toward lip-smacking overstatement. In the most ludicrous scene, ominous music swells as the desperate Brossard blackmails his ex (Charlotte Rampling) into giving him cover -- by fiendishly threatening the life of her noble canine. The guy is wanted for World War II atrocities, and we're supposed to be impressed by his lack of feeling toward pets? That's "The Statement's" dramatic approach for you: Harbor this ex-Nazi or we'll shoot this dog.

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