Quite the best thing Verhoeven has going for him is his fantastic Dutch cast, headed up by Carice Van Houten in a relentlessly fearless performance as the singer Rachel Stein, who is forced into one morally compromising position after another. The film starts in 1944, when Stein has been in hiding for years, but is sent on the run after an errant Allied bomb destroys her hideout. As a former singer, she's able to take on new personas with great ease, but there's always a tough brightness about her, the statuesque ease of someone who's accustomed to being stared at and fought over.
As such, it isn't much surprise to see how easily Stein is able to win the confidences of both the Dutch resistance and the local Nazi commanders, bedding an appropriate man from either camp along the way. The script that Verhoeven wrote (with Gerard Soeteman) is based on heavy research into the period, and touches on a good number of weighty topics, most especially the frying pan and fire situation that European Jews found themselves in during the war, being overtly hunted by Nazis on the one hand, and more covertly being despised and opportunistically taken advantage of by other, occupied Europeans.
In such desperate circumstances, especially in the film's time period (everyone knows the war is ending, and is starting to figure out how to politically position themselves best for the aftermath), it is not at all shocking that somebody like Stein would go so far as to romantically entangle herself with an officer like the Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). However, Verhoeven rather cynically and easily allows Müntze to play the handsome officer (it isn't quite clear if he's Nazi SS or a Dutch collaborator) with a conscience while having another Nazi, the thick-browed and thuggish Franken (Waldemar Kobus) be the heavy who helped massacre Stein's family. See, Müntze is the nice Nazi.
It's this desire to have it both ways that dooms Black Book. Verhoeven wants to make a WWII thriller, and to that end, he has performed amazingly. The film clips right along from one tense confrontation to the next, the screen fairly popping with the drama, all fedoras, train stations, and resistance fighters who can smoke jauntily while shooting Nazis. However, the film also wants to explore issues with some serious moral gravity. Thus its two impulses often work at cross purposes, the more base desire to entertain -- Verhoeven's perverse tendency to shove his unique blend of cartoonish violence and raw sexuality into the audience's face -- often cheapening its more serious material and practically wasting many of the great performances on show here.
Black Book is the best Verhoeven film since Basic Instinct -- if only that were a bigger compliment.
What are you going to do? Charge her with not smoking?
In Theaters: Thursday 14th September 2006
Box Office USA: $4.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $26.2M
Distributed by: Sony Picture Classics
Production compaines: Fu Works, Clockwork Pictures, ContentFilm International, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, Media Programme of the European Community, Filmförderungsanstalt (FFA), Euroimages Fund of the Council of Europe, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, CoBo Fund, Nederlands Fonds voor de Film, uFilm, VIP 4 Medienfonds, Hector BV, Motel Films, Motion Investment Group, Studio Babelsberg, Egoli Tossell Film AG
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 114 Rotten: 36
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Producer: San Fu Maltha, Jos van der Linden, Frans van Gestel, Jeroen Beker
Screenwriter: Gerard Soeteman, Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Carice van Houten as Rachel Stein / Ellis de Vries, Sebastian Koch as Ludwig Müntze, Thom Hoffman as Hans Akkermans, Halina Reijn as Ronnie, Waldemar Kobus as Günther Franken, Matthias Schoenaerts as Joop, Theo Maassen as Prison Guard with Baret, Derek de Lint as Gerben Kuipers, Christian Berkel as General Käutner, Dolf de Vries as Notary Wim Smaal, Peter Blok as Van Gein, Michiel Huisman as Rob, Ronald Armbrust as Tim Kuipers, Frank Lammers as Kees, Johnny de Mol as Theo, Xander Straat as Maarten, Diana Dobbelman as Mrs. Smaal
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