Jewison's unaffecting political thriller, scripted by Ronald Harwood, describes the hunt for French war criminal Paul Brossard (Caine), a character based on Paul Touvier, the 'Hangman of Lyon', convicted for selecting seven Jews for execution in 1944. The grave b/w of the opening scenes suggests the vérité of a Rosi or Costa-Gavras, but as the film flashes forwards to the early '90s, when nondescript fugitive Brossard is flushed out by would-be Jewish assassins, the plot switches to sub-Day of the Jackal mode. Likeably paired as chalk-and-cheese hounds are an idealist judge and a shrewd police chief (Swinton and Northam), whose job is to instruct the audience about the web of Roman Catholic hierarchy and state complicity which kept Brossard hidden for 50 years. Despite Jewison's efforts at authenticity of milieu, the film plays like a TV Maigret, with unfortunate borrowings from 'Allo 'Allo thrown in. Caine tries manfully to meld the pathetic and abhorrent sides of a ordinary, ageing individual, suggesting both a desperate need for periodic absolution and a viciousness when cornered; he's especially good in scenes where Bossard bullies his estranged wife (a dowdy Rampling). The middlebrow approach begs too many questions of motivation and historical context, and flatly undermines the film's effectiveness as a thriller.
Cast and crew
David de Keyser