The director who blitzed Hollywood with such pulp classics as Basic Instinct, Robocop and Showgirls takes everyone by surprise with a return to the World War II drama canon, 30 years after Soldier of Orange. Described by critics as brash, provocative and outrageous, with more topless women than a Riviera beach, Paul Verhoeven's first Dutch film in 20 years is also a bold, wilfully irreverent and morally complex film about the Holocaust. Rachel Stein (played with ferocious energy by Carice van Houten) is a sexy Jewish singer in the Dutch underground resistance movement who signs up for the ultimate Mata Hari assignment: to seduce Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch), the head of the Gestapo in The Hague. Falling in love with him is not part of her plan.
BY Flicks Writer
Verhoeven’s “good” movies – Robocop, Starship Troopers – are skilful critiques of his adopted America. In the guise of pulpy sci-fi, these are some of Hollywood’s cleverest critiques of Western capitalist excess and Imperialist foreign policy – revealing, in both, the worrying fascist undertones and gleefully pointing out how much we get off on them.
But across the good and not-so-good, constant across Paul Verhoeven’s career is an (often graphic) exploration of the human will to power. And the danger is that peering into such an abyss is a two-way thing: the monster at the bottom is liable to peer back. (The question looms often in Black Book: Is Paul Verhoeven an explorer of fascism and misogyny, or is he just a fascistic misogynist?)
So in making a movie set in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, the problem becomes obvious: if your stock-in-trade is subversively revealing the power-crazed undercurrent of an era, you don’t really have much to do if your movie is about the Third Reich. Subverting American values, yes, fine - but is there really much of a market for eloquent condemnations of the politics of the Nazis? These were bad guys: we’re aware of that, Paul, you’re going to have to give us something more.
And he does: toward the end of Black Book’s 2.5 hour running time, we’re treated to something of a violent reversal that goes some way toward musing on some tricky truths about power. It’s just a shame it takes about 90 minutes to get there. And that’s 90 minutes of clever but pedestrian plot, laden with violence that’s more than token but less than wrenching, and sexuality that veers from refreshingly frank to screen-breakingly stupid.
Which is to say, Verhoeven’s back in town.
The Peoples' Reviews
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It portrays the life-and-death tension of WW2 Europe during the time of German military occupation.
This movie is about such a recent chapter in world history - only 60-odd years ago.
Indeed, the story prompted my discussion with a Dutch family farming here in the Waikato where one gentleman was aged 8 to 12 years old during the occupation of Holland. Older youth were... More kept in hiding and the younger kids (like him) had to do all the farm work etc. He recalls his parents hiding a basic radio in the laundry roof - if it was found they could be shot or sent to a work camp.
'Black Book' shows that cruelty and prejudice can take hold in any camp, not just among the 'bad guys', and similarly kindness and trust is found when not expected.Hide
Epic film, writ large and in largely in blood - as befit the times - nothing effete or uncertain in any of it. Ravishing to look at, visceral and plot driven. I also have to ask, where does Paul Verhoven find his leading actresses? Carice van Houten defies description and both she and Sebastian Koch give a hell of a performance. Just outstanding.
I had no idea what to expect when I walked into this movie. What I found was one of the best movies I have seen in the last twelve months. Powerful, gripping, moving.
War is ugly: occupation, collaboration, fear, betrayal,greed, but also humanity and courage.
By way of comparison Atonement is a pretty reasonable movie but its through a soft focus lens when compared to Black Book.
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