Don't dismiss this film because of the subtitles - The Black Book is a gripping tale of one womans loss, her attempt at revenge, some heart stopping double dealing all in an utterly convincing story set during the second world war.
Paul Verhoeven has made compelling films in the past, but these always had a somewhat deliberate and unashamed tackiness about them. 'Black Book' is a departure from previous form; devoid of the comic horror of 'Total Recall' and the sleazy overtones of 'Basic Instinct'. I think it would be misleading to describe this purely as a war movie: it is essentially a revenge thriller with World War II as the backdrop. There are strong performances all round, especially from Sebastian Koch, who excels once again. With a less capable cast, the movie's 140 minutes may grated, but it never fails to grip the viewer over this duration. If it had been produced within the Hollywood system, this would have been a major box office hit. In any event, 'Black Book' is one of the best thrillers of recent years.
The critics who have dismissed Paul Verhoeven's latest masterpiece as "Schindler's List meets Showgirls" doubtless didn't realize just how apt their comparison really was, or how much of a compliment it turned out to be. Verhoeven has always been all about taking serious subjects and genres and undercutting them with his trademark satirical humor and wild sensibility. "Black Book" is no exception, and it's one of Verhoeven's absolute best. A wartime thriller set in WW2-era Holland, the film follows Rachel (Carice van Houten), a young Jewish girl whose parents are murdered by Nazis before her eyes, and who consequently flees into the underground resistance, infiltrating the Nazi high command in her country as a singer and the lover of the garrison commander Muntze (Sebastian Koch). The film is a morally complex examination of the nature of wartime culpability, as well as the processes of rehabilitation and war crimes tribunals instituted in the aftermath of the war. As is typical of Verhoeven's films, concepts of guilt and innocence are strictly relative, as are good and evil, and the film rejects moral absolutism in no uncertain terms. More importantly, Verhoeven is just as interested in fulfilling the expectations of a wartime spy thriller as he is in exploring the deeper moral issues at his story's core. The film is continually exciting, even downright exhilirating, and Verhoeven never shies away from capturing feelings of joy, lust, and celebration along with the darker elements inherent in any WW2 picture. His film at times turns into a dazzling cabaret, as in the wonderful sequence where Rachel takes the mic and croons out a torch song as the sleazy, terrifyingly sadistic German officer Franken (Waldemar Kobus) sidles up to her. Verhoeven's film is exemplary for the way it humanizes even the Nazi villains, and Muntze in particular becomes a startingly complex and at times even sympathetic figure, while the resistance is not always portrayed in a positive light. Verhoeven completely rejects the ways in which people label entire movements or groups as either good or evil, preferring the subleties of human individuality in depicting all his characters, whatever "side" they might fall on. The film is an absolute masterpiece, with an unstoppable central performance from Van Houten, who's revealed as a major star here.
A movie to make you think and gain understanding of a much forgotten piece of WW2 - many turns in the plot and lots to talk about when watched -brilliant images and movie.. so worth the effort of a film with subtitles!
Those crazy Dutch: if they're not invading South Africa or cooking in the nude, they're making movies about crotch flashing serial killers, pouting strippers, invisible men, future fascists and bare breasted freedom fighters...or at least one of them is. 'Robocop' director Paul Veerhoven, much like the title of his countryman Hieronymus Bosch's famous painting, returns to his Eurotrash roots with 'Zwartboek' ('Black Book'). An occasionally tense, structurally silly, but nonetheless engrossing WWII spy movie that's 'Charlotte Gray' on speed, holding a revolver and smoking a cigarette with no top on. Chock full of old school, wartime clichés, visual gimmicks and 1940s comic-book action, 'Black Book' tells the story of Jewish resistance fighter Rachel Stein (a daring performance by Clarice Van Houten) who successfully infiltrates Nazi occupation forces in Holland, and multitasks a one-woman espionage op whilst trying to settle a personal vendetta.
There seems to be some kind of critical consensus, which claims that Paul Verhoven's career stalled with 'Hollow Man' (2000), not in my book; 'Hollow Man' was a good popcorn movie as was 'Starship Troopers'. People tend to forget that whilst Veerhoven may be known for his sleazier efforts like 'Basic Instinct', 'The Sensualist' and 'Diary Of A Hooker', the Dutch director was, after Jim Cameron, one of the most accomplished sci-fi filmmakers and SFX pioneers working in Hollywood, for if you watch 'Hollow Man', the effects and, of course, Kevin Bacon's wonderfully smug performance, still stand up today. Paul Veerhoven's directorial career in genre pictures is alive & well, it's just his career in contemporary or serious drama that took an irreparable hit with 'Showgirls', whilst simultaneously damaging his seedier niche in erotica.
By opting for Kibbutz scenes to bookend his picture, Veerhoven was setting himself up for an epilogue he was never prepared, nor have time to explore; the fact that he tries to make two complex political points in the space of five minutes is absurd, for a movie that spent the same amount of time showing us Rachel dying her hair blonde. And if Paul had followed through with his second point, 'Black Book' would've been a better film for it. This subject matter ought to be easier for Veerhoven to convey than most, after all, he lived through both the German and U.S. occupations of his homeland, so its surprising then, that both 'Black Book' and 'Soldier Of Orange' (1977) employ clichés and exploitation devices; 'Black Book' in particular, is often unsure about whether it wants to be 'L'Armée Des Ombres' or 'Salon Kitty'.
On a more positive note, Veerhoven sets a good pace and the action sequences are well shot, Clarice Van Houten braves some pretty horrendous scenes whilst newcomer Halina Rejin could well be the next Lena Olin. A consistently entertaining, and often harrowing, movie made with technical proficiency by the veteran director: Good stab at the WWII resistance picture, but it's no 'Army Of Shadows'.
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Epic war drama based on a true story. Rachel Steinn (Carice van Houten) is a beautiful Jewish woman living in Holland during the early days of World War II. When Axis forces take control of Holland, Rachel's family are killed in a bombing raid while most of the city's Jews are rounded up and sent to Nazi death camps. Rachel manages to narrowly avoid capture, and joins the local resistance movement. With her hair dyed blonde, Rachel can easily pass for a gentile, and when the leader of the Dutch resistance movement learns his son has been captured by Axis forces, Rachel is asked to use her feminine charms to persuade a German commander to arrange for the boy's release. Rachel soon finds herself caught up in a dangerous double life as she becomes a sexual plaything for the Nazis while attempting to bring down their evil empire as a spy.