Black Book (Zwartboek)
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Exclusive Interview With Director Paul Verhoven; Exclusive Interview With Carice Van Houten; The Making Of Black Book – Featurette; Original Theatrical Trailer; Film Notes.
PAUL Verhoeven has never been one to do things by half measures. Whether exposing Sharon Stone’s crotch in Basic Instinct or exploding heads in Robocop, the Dutch director has always adoped a ballsy approach to everything he does.
Hence Black Book, his first Second World War epic since 1877’s Soldier Of Orange and a return to his Dutch roots, is a lusty, action-packed affair chock full of bombs, bullets and breasts.
It follows the fortunes of feisty Dutch Jewess Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) as she joins the Dutch Resistance after her hideout is blasted and her family is killed.
Once inside, she becomes aware of a traitor in their midst but is persuaded to try and flush him out by seducing the local SS commander (Sebastian Koch), only to find herself falling in love and faced with divided loyalties.
In spite of its extravagant running time, Black Book is a thoroughly engrossing old-school war movie enlivened by all the usual Verhoeven trappings.
It’s violent, sexy and completely outrageous but keeps viewers guessing with a number of nice twists and several fine performances.
Houten, in particular, stands out as the Jewish bombshell forced to compromise her values in order to survive, who finds that the line between good and evil isn’t always as clear as she initially expects.
It’s the type of warts and all performance expected from a Verhoeven leading lady that requires her to paint her pubic hair blonde one minute, before being stripped and covered in excrement the next.
But the actress cleverly ensures that she never feels like she’s being exploited and delivers a gutsy performance that makes her genuinely worth rooting for.
There’s strong support too from Koch’s German officer and Thom Hoffman’s Resistance leader – both of whom add to Houten’s crisis of conscience.
Verhoeven also deserves praise for maintaining the momentum throughout and drops in several well executed gun battles that add to the excitement level. It ensures the film retains a boys’ own sense of adventure spearheaded by its feisty heroine.
If there are criticisms, then most lend themselves to the director’s cavalier style of filmmaking given his reputation for excess. Sometimes the film is a little too brash when a little more subtlety might have served it better.
But at a time when Hollywood seems to be striving to keep things politically correct, it’s refreshing to find a film that dares to lay it all on the line.
Black Book is therefore a refreshingly non-PC effort that titillates and exhilarates in equal measure.
In Dutch/German with subtitles
Running time: 2hrs 25mins