Written by The Pianist‘s Ronald Harwood, from a novel by the late, great Brian Moore, The Statement comes with a hoity-toity high-fiction pedigree, and for the most part its thriller plot maintains a dignified literary air. What’s surprising, though, is the anti-Catholicism at the core of its story: Nearly 50 years after WWII, a pardoned Vichy collaborator and murderer (Michael Caine) is being hunted by both a rogue Jewish cabal looking to avenge the 1944 Dombey massacre and a bulldozing judge (Tilda Swinton) attempting to prosecute him with a post-Pinochet crimes-against-humanity charge. The pursuits’ primary obstacle is the Church, depicted as a vast, lawless conspiracy aiding and abetting war criminals, blithely obstructing justice, and assassinating inconvenient witnesses.
The matter-of-fact poison-pen portrait of the world’s wealthiest and most secretive organization is easy enough to swallow, but Norman Jewison’s slack direction and expository cartoonishness is not. Swinton acts with her swinging pageboy coif, and the revelatory scenes in which she and investigating army dick Jeremy Northam trace the fugitive’s path from one safe-house abbey to another are winnowed down to punctuation without text. Caine’s passionately devotional running man is a cipher—the equation between his Catholic fervor and his right-wing bloodlust is, finally, zero-sum. The wall-to-wall Brit accents, in the mouths of ostensibly French characters, don’t help, but The Statement ends up second-guessing its own high-minded strivings, not trustful enough of its audience to be sophisticated about history and ethics, and not pulpy enough to keep us awake. What would Costa-Gavras have done?