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      The Statement
    Something's Vichy

    An officer of the Nazi-collaborating French regime is on the run as an old man in "The Statement," a drama based uncomfortably on a true story.


    "The Statement" is a well-done political thriller that rests just a little too uneasily atop a true piece of history that it's based on.

    The film is inspired by the story of Paul Touvier (more on Touvier here), an officer in the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime who was convicted of the murders of seven Jews. He was captured in southern France in 1989 after more than four decades evading the law with the help of right-wing elements in the Catholic Church.

    Directed by: Norman Jewison.
    Written by: Ronald Harwood.
    Adapted from the novel by: Brian Moore.
    Cast: Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Rampling, Alan Bates, Jeremy Northam, Ciarán Hinds, John Neville, Matt Craven, Edward Petherbridge.

    Related links: Official site
    Paul Brossard (Michael Caine) is and is not this man. A onetime Vichy officer, this character has lived under the protection of a secret cabal called the Chevaliers de Sainte Marie, the Knights of the Virgin Mary. In the present day, he finds himself hunted from two sides. A new prosecutor (Tilda Swinton of "The Deep End") is on his trail despite being warned by high-placed government officials not to pursue the case too heartily. And a shadowy group, seemingly American Jewish vigilantes, have a plan to assassinate him and leave a statement pinned to his body detailing his crimes. Meanwhile, his aged Vichy-era comrades, now among the most senior and influential officials in the church, begin to give him a cold shoulder on the orders of their publicity-conscious cardinal.

      The Statement
    The ever-professional Caine plays his character as a weakened man, broken down by his years of fear and flight, which makes it all the more surprising how cunning he can be when cornered.

    The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Moore, and there's a reason why it's a novel — that frees the writers from the facts. The film adds considerable dramatic embellishment to the real Touvier story, and engages in insinuations about the government and the church that don't have to be proven — or even true — because it's fiction. Sometimes this "based on a true story" territory can be treacherous. (For a better handling of one of the church's most disgraceful episodes, see this year's "The Magdalene Sisters.") It might have been braver to tell the truth about what's known of the people who helped Touvier than invent a leering fiction that only hints at dark conspiracies whose workings are unknown.

    DECEMBER 12, 2003

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