Film Reviews


By • Apr 4th, 2007 •

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A Fu Works production in association with Egoli Tossell Film, Clockwork Pictures, Studio Babesberg AG, Motion Investment Group, Motel Films and Hector / A VIP Medienfonds 4 production;
No MPAA rating / 145 minutes

Verhoeven’s status as an evocative filmmaker has been redeemed.

Paul Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK washes away the SHOWGIRLS stink. He had to leave Hollywood to make an important, beautifully directed, enthralling film. One of my favorite films is Verhoeven’s 1983 THE FOURTH MAN.* Then, of course, there are his Hollywood films TOTAL RECALL and BASIC INSTINCT. I even liked STARSHIP TROOPERS. But SHOWGIRLS damaged everyone’s career: Verhoeven as director, Mighty Joe Eszterhas as lauded screenwriter, and all the performers. Poor Elizabeth Berkley had to go to the New York stage for a career.

Everyone in Verhoeven’s World War ll epic – and at 2 hours 25 minutes, it’s a sweeping epic – is lying, conniving, double-crossing and triple-crossing. And then there are the Nazis.

It is 1944 and Germany occupies Holland. A young singer from a wealthy Jewish family, Rachel (Carice van Houten), is hiding from the Nazis. With well-placed contacts, Rachel and her family pay their way with others to leave Holland. On the river, the Gestapo finds them and everyone, except Rachel, is shot.

Rachel’s family has powerful connections and she is soon part of a resistance group led by Kuipers (Derek de Lint). Taking a job at Kuipers’ headquarters, a soup kitchen, Rachel is asked to be a decoy transporting weapons. On a train, she meets a handsome SS officer, Muntze (Sebastian Koch [THE LIVES OF OTHERS]). Believing Rachel is non-Jewish – she has dyed her black hair blond – Muntze flirts with her.

When told of Muntze’s interest in Rachel, Kuipers asks her to see him again and sleep with him. With a convenient ruse, Rachel goes to SS headquarters and is given a job. She quickly begins an affair with Muntze – who is no dummy.

Now working alongside another Nazi “sympathizer,” fun-loving Ronnie (Halina Reijn), who is sleeping with the enemy as well, Rachel recognizes her immediate boss as none other than the man who led the sneak attack on the boat she and her family were in. Franken (Waldemar Kopus) is corrupt and, since the war is ending, looking out for his own interests. As Rachel begins to fall in love with the virile, dashing Muntze, she finds out that there are Dutch-Nazi alliances all around her.

Everyone in this film is willing to lie, betray, murder, and steal.

The liberation of Holland brings out the worst in people and Rachel, along with other perceived co-conspirators, is brutalized. She escapes with Muntze.

BLACK BOOK is an enthralling adventure, intelligently written and beautifully directed. Verhoeven’s keen sensuality is well handled by van Houten and the fascinating Koch. The resistance fighters are all strong characters. Verhoeven, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gerard Soeteman, weaves a story rife with intrigue without confusing or blurring the intentions of the players – who are all traitors to something ideological, philosophical, financial or fanciful. We see how, and why, each deceit is played out. Interestingly, Muntze is the only character without a double-or-triple cross agenda.

So far, yes, it’s only May, but I only have two movies on my working tally of 2007 Best Films List: 300 and BLACK BOOK.

* Ditto for FIR’s editor.

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Screenwriters: Gerard Soeteman, Paul Verhoeven
Producers: San Fu Maltha, Jos van der Linden, Frans van Geste, Jeroen Baker, Teun Hilte, Jens Meurer
Executive producers: Andreas Grosch, Andrea Schmid, Marcus Schofer, Henning Molfenter, Carl Woebcken, Jamie Carmichael, Graham Begg, Sara Giles
Director of photography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Production designer: Wilbert van Dorp
Music: Anne Dudley
Editors: Job ter Burg, James Herbert

Rachel/Ellis: Carice van Houten
Ludwig Muntze: Sebastian Koch
Hans Akkermans: Thom Hoffman
Ronnie: Halina Reijn
Gunther Franken: Waldemar Kobus
Gerben Kuipers: Derek de Lint
Gen. Kautner: Christian Berkel
Notary Smaal: Dolf de Vries
Van Gein: Peter Blok
Rob: Michiel Huisman
Tim Kuipers: Ronald Armbrust
Kees: Frank Lammers

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