Tale of a former Nazi executioner who becomes a target of hitmen and police investigators.Tale of a former Nazi executioner who becomes a target of hitmen and police investigators.Tale of a former Nazi executioner who becomes a target of hitmen and police investigators.Tale of a former Nazi executioner who becomes a target of hitmen and police investigators.Tale of a former Nazi executioner who becomes a target of hitmen and police investigators.
Michael Caine, who has played many English roles as well as being an American abortion providing doctor, now takes on elderly Frenchman Pierre Brossard, once a shining star of the toady Vichy police force without which the Nazis could never have murdered some 77,000 French Jews. A small percentage of the Holocaust toll but not an unimportant one. Among other acts he participated in the roundup and murder of seven Jews. Such an incident was the basis for the novel.
A man who may belong to a Jewish revanchist organization is killed by Brossard before he can shoot the wheezing, cardiac condition-afflicted former right-hand helpmate for the SS. He's been sheltered for forty years by members of the Catholic clergy.
Tilda Swinton is Judge Levy assigned along with Jeremy Northam, a French army colonel, to find and bring Brossard to trial based on a new law reviving prosecutions against those who committed crimes against humanity. Actually, every important actor in this film except for Charlotte Rampling, who has a small role as Brossard's wife, is English. I'm surprised the French actors' union didn't raise a stink.
This is a chase film with Judge Levy and her colonel either warm or hot on the trail of Brossard who goes from monastery to monastery receiving food, money and help. (In France a judge has vast investigative authority and can and does direct inquiries so the director could credibly have Swinton going from city to city. Imagine Judge Judy flitting about in a chopper ferreting out facts.) At times I thought I was watching a travelogue about the abbeys of Gaul.
There are, of course, hints of a dark conspiracy reaching beyond the Church that I won't reveal.
Caine's peripatetic suspect is deeply religious in the formulaic sense that absolution and ritual salve his conscience but in no way mediate his actions. Caine plays a dirtbag to perfection.
Possibly to avoid charges that the film is unfairly anti-Catholic we're told that
1) the Church is vast, has many subordinate bodies, and those at the top just can't know all that is happening (this defense comes from a gentle librarian-Jesuit priest who also happens to be black, the predominant racial group in the French church).
2) responsibility for aiding genocide by clerics was individual so don't trot out any revisionist Hochhuth/Cornwell/Goldenhagen theories arraigning the Church's leadership.
3) we can't forget that the Resistance was largely communist so maybe there's a rational justification for Vichy's supine collaboration and the very real clerical support for the Nazis if not for every French assisted atrocity.
I despise the mindless Francophobic reaction to France's lack of support for U.S. policy on Iraq. But for too long Vichy and its spineless leaders, Petain and Laval, never mentioned in the film, have gotten a bit of a free ride. So I was happy to see Brossard made frightened as his pursuers close in.
Enjoyable, some nice scenery. Not much more except that Michael Caine is always terrific. And so is Tilda Swinton who brings focused intensity to Judge Levy's unyielding crusade for justice, for that it is.
- Dec 13, 2003