Sunday, November 30, 2008
Black Book (2006)
(Image from IMP Awards)
Black Book (2006)
The gorgeous Carice van Houten is easily one of the main draws of 'Black Book', and not just because of her looks but because her stellar performance is the highlight of an otherwise unexceptional film. Van Houten plays Rachel Stein, a Jewish woman in the Netherlands during World War II who, after the brutal murder of her family, joins the Dutch resistance and infiltrates the Gestapo headquarters in The Hague. There she seduces the officer in charge, Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch), but starts to fall for him when she realizes that he's actually a decent sort who likes to collect stamps instead of kill people. When the resistance uses her to try and help some captured prisoners while also trying to figure out who has been selling out Jews - like Rachel's parents - to the Nazis, she finds herself in an increasingly dangerous position.
Paul Verhoeven is the master of gratuitous violence, nudiy, and sex, and he doesn't dissapoint with this film, and neither does van Houten. Puerile elements aside, the journey Rachel goes through is harrowing and van Houten completely sells the character and her predicament, being sympathetic and convincing as a resourceful woman forced to go to extremes for the cause. She is by far and away the best thing about the film. The rest of it is pretty good as well but doesn't really fire on all cylinders; the film shifts somewhat uncomfortably between historical drama and cheesy action thriller, with the plotting and characterization often being more like a Hollywood summer blockbuster than a sober European war film. Some of the action scenes seem strangely surreal and at odds with the generally realistic tone the film usually maintains.
Having got those negatives out of the way, I can say that 'Black Book' is well acted and visually quite appealing, and while the writing may raise a few chuckles it is still strong enough to make for a gripping experience. As director, Verhoeven manages to conjure some tense scenes and more than a few horrific moments, as he often does, but there's very little in the way of overt humour in the film. Which is a shame, since black comedy is something the man does well, and it wouldn't have been especially jarring since the tone of the film is already fairly erratic.
Overall, a good film that comes across as more superficial and less weighty than most serious WWII movies; still, it's a fine piece of entertainment that features an excellent central performance to hold it together.