Movies force conventions on us all the time, and mostly we shut up and take it. Heroes have better aim than villains. Anyone richer than the main character is mean. Nobody finishes a meal.
But to set a film in a contemporary France where everyone speaks English is to force a proposition that just can't hold.
In The Statement, Michael Caine plays a Frenchman who committed a small-town atrocity as a second world war soldier. Now he's the target of a Jewish group hunting war criminals, and the protection he's received all these years from a Catholic cabal is crumbling.
But what stands out most here is that Michael Caine plays a Frenchman speaking Michael Caine's English. Same holds for Jeremy Northam as a French cop, Tilda Swinton as a French prosecutor and Charlotte Rampling as Caine's estranged French wife. In real life, Charlotte Rampling actually speaks French, but she's in a world where the French language doesn't exist - a bit of a faux pas considering this is Norman Jewison's first-ever Canadian film.
Shooting English for French negates any pretense to naturalism in the drama. Worse, it's not even consistent. In one scene, a French TV reporter relates a story in English but the text onscreen is French.
With its fake language and fantastical thriller plot, The Statement is a throwback, and it offers one or two throwback pleasures. I haven't seen a character screw a silencer onto a gun barrel since Matt Helm.
But watching such strong actors lurching their way through a swamp of stiff dialogue and gelatinous plot turns is exhausting. This is a movie that makes the usually glorious Tilda Swinton speak lines like "That means we haven't much time. I'm going to go see an old Jesuit friend of mine." What is she, Nancy Drew?
Jewison has assembled an impressive cast here, and I'm sure they all had a lovely time in France. But did they have to make a movie?
THE STATEMENT directed by Norman Jewison, written by Ronald Harwood, from the novel by Brian Moore, produced by Jewison and Robert Lantos, with Michael Caine, Jeremy Northam, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Rampling, Alan Bates, Ciaran Hinds, William Hutt and John Neville. 120 minutes. A ThinkFilm release. Opens Friday (December 12). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 90. Rating: N