Black Book (2007)
Black Book (2007)

Genre: Thriller and War Running Time: 2 hrs. 25 min.

Release Date: May 18th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Verhoeven Actors: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel

 


 

I

n Nazi-occupied Holland, young Jewish girl Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) is forced into hiding. When her cover is blown, she receives help from the Resistance to attempt to reach liberated territory, but disastrous events find her stranded and alone. Joining up with another Resistance group led by Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint), Rachel assumes the name of Ellis de Vries and agrees to spy on Gestapo leader Ludwig Muntze (Sebastian Koch) in order to help plan an escape for several captured allies, including Kuipers’ son. Seducing Muntze and working her way into the compound, Ellis slowly uncovers a conspiracy that reveals that no one can be trusted and nothing is what it seems.

The hardest concept to bear in “Black Book” is the motif that heroine Ellis cannot escape the atrocities of war. Told as a flashback, which hurts the film in that the audience is all too aware of Ellis’ fate, the story ensures that tragedy is always looming over every persona. As a Jewish girl in World War II, Ellis struggles to help the oppressed, while also seeking out activities that will keep her too occupied to recount the loss of her family. She fights deceit from nearly everyone and hatred from her accomplices, all while witnessing ultimate sacrifices by her people. And even as a spy infiltrating the Nazis, she encounters equally negative treatment. Always in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s certainly trying on the audience when director Paul Verhoeven continues to place her on the losing side or in depressing confliction.

Disheartening perhaps, but also riveting, as each new challenge promises excitement, suspense, and the burning desire to find out what happens next. Ample foreshadowing permeates “Black Book” as it masters one of the most rewarding tricks in film. In several early conversations, bits of seemingly random information are discussed between characters. At first glance, this appears to be filler discourse or mere character development – but later, during climactic moments, that information is recalled and revisited in significant ways. It’s especially thrilling because the audience feels like they are in the know on a crucial plot point – an uncommon yet highly rewarding technique used far too infrequently.

Additionally, flawless acting all around makes “Black Book” an early contender for awards’ season. Carice van Houten is a particularly strong lead, sucking the audience into her morbid world of perpetual torture and misfortune. But as the twisty plot is steadily unveiled, her tormented character becomes more and more appealing, lending to a resounding finale. Sebastian Koch also turns in an exceptional performance as the Gestapo leader whose temperament and sympathy betrays him to the real villains. And the Resistance members each possess a distinct demeanor as well, from the hagridden Theo (Johnny de Mol) to the heroic Hans (Thom Hoffman).

“You shouldn’t be so trusting. Not in a time like this.” “Black Book” is a haunting tale of love, deception, and betrayal, mixing the horrors of war with the beauty of a sweeping romance and the devastating struggle to survive in a forsaken world. And it’s Paul Verhoeven’s long-awaited return to the epic, violent style of filmmaking that he perfected with “Soldier of Orange,” “Flesh + Blood,” and “Robocop” – a riveting, chaotic odyssey from a seasoned filmmaker that won’t be easily forgotten.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10