leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Norman Jewison's honorable but stodgy exercise in ethical outrage, based on Brian Moore's acclaimed 1996 novel, fairly aches to be called a thinking man's thriller. Inspired by the real-life case of French war criminal Paul Touvier, the story revolves around Pierre Broussard (Michael Caine) who, in 1944, was an officer in the Milice. Formed by the Vichy government, which collaborated with Nazi occupiers, the Milice persecuted French Jews, and Broussard personally ordered the execution of seven Jewish men in small-town Dombey. Like Touvier, Broussard escaped post-war arrest and has been sheltered and supported ever since by friends within the Catholic Church. But nearly five decades later, his illusion of safety is shattered by a hired assassin (Matt Craven). Broussard turns the tables on the would-be hit man, but is horrified to find a statement denouncing him for the murders in Dombey that was to have been left on his body. Broussard knows someone else will come for him and goes on the run, a gimpy old man with a bad heart looking over his shoulder, slipping out back doors and abandoning his domicile in the dead of night. At the same time, icy Judge Annemarie Livi (Tilda Swinton), the latest of a series of prosecutors appointed by the French government to investigate war crimes, makes it clear she doesn't share the laissez-faire attitude of her predecessors. She enlists the aid of Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam) in bringing down not only Broussard, but his high-ranking protectors. The cat-and-mouse game between the self-pitying war criminal and his implacable pursuers one set working within the law, the other taking it into their own hands sends Broussard crisscrossing France in search of refuge. But publicity orchestrated by Levi has made him too hot to handle, even for his oldest allies. By placing Broussard at the story's center, Jewison exploits the fact that viewers tend to sympathize with the hunted, and it's hard not to feel sorry for a wheezing geezer with a pack of righteous youngsters nipping his wrinkled heels. But despite Broussard's anguished prayers for forgiveness, which suggest a man tormented by the sins of his youth, he richly deserves to be caught if that's not clear from the outset, it is after he lands a well-aimed kick in the ribs of an inoffensive old dog. Caine captures Broussard's banal wickedness but, like the rest of the principal cast, his unrepentant English accent is always jarring and occasionally comical.