I rented this DVD solely because of Michael Caine and wasn't disappointed in his performance. I agree with other reviewers that the plot is unreeled slowly and certain key points (the motaives of the conspirators, and the motives of the Roman Catholic Church) are undeveloped and remain cloudy.
My chief disappointment was with the ending. Brossard, the French traitor, is finally gunned down by the government assassins who suceed in placing their STATEMENT on the body. The statement says that Brossard was executed for his war crimes, but then further condemns the Catholic Church for protecting Brossard for nearly 50 years. Is this condemnation the true meaning of the story?
Directly after this scene, in which Tilda Swinton's character of a French judge arrives too late to take Brossard into custody, the film cuts to a ball-room scene. The judge goes up to several highly-placed French officials and subtly informs them that their time is up, and that justice is coming for them. The implication is that the actual assassin (a member of the French police) has been arrested and is naming names. However, we do not see that scene, only the vague reference (just one line) made by the lady judge. (That polieman, in my opinion, would never have named names because he is dedicated to what he believes is a just cause.) Thus the film reminded me of one of those crime dramas of the '30s, where the outcome must always be the same, even if it defies reason: G-Men always get their man and that "crime doesn't pay."
Since the screenplay does not go deeply into the nature of the conspiracy of the French ministers, and we never learn their names, their titles or positions, but instead focuses on Brossard's quest to "die in a state of grace and forgiveness" the film suffers from a split personaility. In the end, the audience is left in the middle. The filmmakers do not finish either story but instead make a statement of their own: that we should not forget the memories of those slaughtered by a reprehensible regime.
It struck me that Brossard actually paid for his crimes when he was shot dead. Did it really matter who did the shooting? If the judge had caught him, he would have been put on trial and sent to prison for the rest of his life (probably a very short time as he was already quite old and suffering from heart disease). Since the entent and purpose of the "official" conspiracy wasn't dealt with in detail, I would have preferred the more ambiguous ending of seeing Brossard gunned down and his assassin successfully escaping into the night. This is a more perfect ending since Brossard kisses a religious icon just before dying, thus believing that he really did die "in a state of grace and forgiveness." I like ambiguity, and in this case, it works perfectly.
I am not familiar with the novel. Should I be? When I see a film, it's story should be enough. I realize that liberties are taken in translating books to screenplays, but either version should stay true to it's theme. But you have to have a theme in the first place. If the theme in this film was to make a statement that we remember the Jews who were betrayed and killed, (but at the same time provide some sense that "justice was done") then the final scene should have been supported by a previous scene in which the policeman responsible made some sort of statement of his own. That, of course, would have meant that the conspiracy story should have been further developed. Otherwise the ending is self-serving and the dramatic structure is betrayed.