In The Statement, Michael Caine, as an aging French war criminal who once collaborated with the Nazis, shows the reflexes of a man who has grown used to being hunted. Early on, he's tailed by an assassin who pretends to have car trouble. Before the assassin can pull out his gun, Caine has shot him dead, and he covers up the crime with such a merciless cold sweat of efficiency that I looked forward to enjoying his amoral prowess. But Norman Jewison, who directed ''The Statement,'' makes films with his forehead permanently furrowed. He doesn't go in for the lurid zing of fascist power games. He's here to separate right from wrong -- to turn a manhunt into the study of a guilty conscience on the run.
Caine is being sheltered by extremist elements within the Catholic church. A judge (Tilda Swinton) launches an inquiry, and I assumed that the film's conspiracy bombshell would hinge on the controversial issue of Catholic conduct during the Holocaust. But the inquiry leads to little more than a general indictment of corrupt power. If any actor could reveal the squirmy soul of a war criminal, it's Caine, so it feels like a cheat when ''The Statement'' gives him nothing to portray but self-condemnation.