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(2006)

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10/10
Sometimes, You Have to Hide in Plain Sight...
TC Candler26 October 2006
Who said that they don't make films like they used to? A couple of weeks ago, I declared that "The Departed" was the best film of 2006. Last week, I replaced the Scorsese epic with Sofia Coppola's luscious biopic of "Marie Antoinette". I never would have guessed that Paul Verhoeven (Yes, the Paul Verhoeven who directed "Total Recall", "Basic Instinct" & "Showgirls"!!!) would challenge them both with a gripping, edge-of-your-seat World War II yarn.

I use the old-fashioned term, yarn, because "Black Book" is very much a film that feels like it was made decades ago. The lush visuals, orchestral music, European styling, wartime romanticism and cliffhanging chapters all add a certain 1950's charm to the white-knuckle plot. One gets the feeling that the ghosts of Gregory Peck, Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, Spencer Tracy & Jean Harlow are embodying the cast of this classic espionage drama.

The film begins in 1956 with Rachel Steinn, a school teacher at an Israeli kibbutz, being accidentally found by an old acquaintance, who is on vacation with her husband. The meeting brings back painful wartime memories and Rachel heads to a quiet place by the river to recollect our central story.

So back we travel, to occupied Holland, circa 1944, and we see a more youthful Rachel, diligently practicing a bible passage in order to earn a meal from the family who is hiding her from the Germans. She, like many Jews at that time, were surviving by any means necessary in order to outlast the Nazi tyranny. However, one day, while flirting with a young man sailing on the nearby lake, her safe zone is destroyed in one fell swoop by a low flying bomber. Rachel is immediately on the run, aided by her new sailor friend.

So much of this film relies on surprises and shocking twists that it would be unfair of me to detail too many plot threads. And my goodness, there are a tons of them. This is truly a definitive epic, in every cinematic sense of the word. Rachel is crossed and doubled-crossed and triple-crossed, eventually winding up as a member of the famed Resistance. Via cunning and fortunate circumstance, she manages to transform herself into Ellis de Vries, a blond bombshell who infiltrates the German command in the area. She uses a quick wit, a gorgeous voice, some feminine charms and a collection of Queen Wilhelmina stamps to crawl her way into the arms of Herr Müntze (Sebastian Koch).

From deep within the Nazi camp, she is able to strategically plant a microphone and to use tidbits of acquired knowledge in order to provide the Resistance with vital information and plans. While evolving into a brave spy, she must learn how to reconcile her own personal vendettas and her surprising romantic feelings for Müntze.

There are no more exciting themes for me in movies than tragic romance, espionage and escape. I have loved them all with a passion ever since I was a small child. Throw in a magnificent screenplay, marvelous cinematography, a plot that churns along with the efficiency of a Swiss watch, and the added bonus of a gorgeous actress -- the result is sure to be a huge winner for me. "Black Book" satisfies everything that I truly want from a film. It is the reason I go to the movies. I was utterly swept away by the intrigue, drama, romance and tragedy. This emotionally weighty film even manages to deliver a few wonderfully witty moments to break the supreme tension of it all.

The cast is immense. Every one of them exudes authenticity. It is one of the best ensembles of the year. However, I struggle to call it an ensemble because it would be ignoring one of the singular performances in recent memory. Carice Van Houten is not a household name to most. She is a Dutch beauty who, if this role is anything to go by, is on the verge of a magnificent career. Her grasp on the emotional turmoil of Rachel/Ellis is of profound proportions. It is a stunning turn that flatly demands award consideration. The range on display in this movie is astonishing. Rarely have I ever been as moved by a character's heroism and charm and guile and wits. She is able to create a sympathetic creature... one that we will root for until the end... one that we trust and believe in.

I cannot leave this review without admitting to my utter admiration for Paul Verhoeven, a director whose films I have often enjoyed and panned in equal measures. This is the work of his lifetime. It is the film he should list above all others on his résumé. This is a thoughtful, poignant and tremendously thrilling adventure. For attentive viewers, the final scenes of the film act as a provocative meditation on the relationships between war and justice, peace and insularity, the actions of the past and the promises of the future. "Black Book (Zwartboek)" is not only a riveting WWII adventure, but a superb contrast of morality -vs- reality.

TC Candler IndependentCritics.com
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9/10
Hold on for an epic thrill ride
larry-41125 September 2006
I attended the North American premiere of "Black Book" at the Toronto International Film Festival. Although my main interest lies in independent film, and I did see many indies as well as foreign films and documentaries in Toronto, I also saw a few of the "Gala" selections. Of those "big movies" on my list, the one which impressed me the most was this Dutch production from Paul Verhoeven. Set in Nazi-occupied Holland during World War II, the film centers around a young Jewish woman named Rachel, who changes her name (and hair, and personality, and more) to Ellis and enters an odyssey of determination and sheer luck in an effort to survive what would otherwise be certain death.

Make no mistake about it: this is an epic in the true sense of the word. The visuals are stunning. Everything about the production from the sound to the effects to the score says "big budget." The story is chock full of more twists and turns than just about any film I've seen in this genre. And just when you think that, perhaps, Verhoeven is beginning to stretch the bounds of credulity, you realize (at the end credits, if not before) that "Black Book" is based on fact.

Most of all, the film's power is due to the magnificent acting of Carice van Houten. Her Rachel/Ellis is a character so unique, so original, that it holds up against the great heroines of contemporary cinema. Combine her marvelous performance with a wonderful story and superb production values and you end up with a thrill ride from start to finish. "Black Book" left me breathless.
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8/10
Excellent WWII thriller
adriaan-dekkers05615 September 2006
Saw it at Toronto Int. Film Festival with Paul Verhoeven and Carice van Houten on stage. This movie has Verhoeven's trademark stamp all over it. It's evident this film was a more personal project for him. Non stop action and good acting, especially from the lead actress, Carice van Houten. I've seen other films (American and French) about Resistance fighters during WWII, but non of them gripped me by the throat like this one. I admit Verhoeven is at times a bit heavy-handed, especially the sound effects of German machine guns, but the story never sags. It's a "By the seat of your pants" type of movie. After you leave the theater, the impact of the story stays with you for days. Go and see it when it comes to your local cinema in North America. I highly recommend it.
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9/10
Why there's no exact line between good or bad...
mariekehopman30 October 2006
When I read all the comments about Zwartboek, it becomes clear to me that either you like the movie or you kind of hate it. What is that with good and bad that we want to make an exact line... This whole movie is about not knowing if you can do bad things (kill, betray or whatever) to achieve the good. Or the other way around off course. I must admit that the movie is (again) explicit, but aren't all the Dutch movies? What strikes me most is that some people expect to get a movie in which everything is clear. I think this is a movie which should set us to thinking: what would I do if I were in the same situation. Paul Verhoeven made clear with this movie that in the end, lots of people act for their own prosperity. It's just what you make people around you believe... I think in lots of countries people acted like this, none of the countries however dared to make a movie out of it. To me this movie is again (as Soldaat van Oranje and for instance De Tweeling)a beautiful one about WWII without getting boring. A smart story with two faces. Although some of the actors don't really fit into a masterpiece like this, I give it a great compliment. Get over the explicit name calling (ever seen Pulp Fiction??) and appreciate the scenery and nice camera-work, the great plot change and you'll have a great time and may even reconsider your own ideas about the resistance!
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10/10
A real masterpiece by Paul Verhoeven.
laurentboutonnat16 September 2006
This is definitely one of the best films ever made in Holland. Paul Verhoeven has created a real masterpiece. In my opinion, even if you dislike WW2 movies, you really should see Zwartboek, this movie is about so much more than just the war.

A very philosofical sentence in the movie is 'Does is never ends?'. Men could say it illustrates the writer's longing for worldwide peace, also regarding the end of the movie which illustrates the Middle East conflict.

Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch are simply great in this movie. Without them Paul Verhoeven couldn't have done this with such a magnitude. I'm sure that we will hear more from this two actors in the future, maybe in a Hollywood production? They really deserve it.
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9/10
Impressive and heuristic
mm-versteegh14 September 2006
It took me about an hour after having seen the film to find any enthusiasm to write this review. The film Black Book, or Zwartboek in Dutch, is very impressive, with an excellent feeling for the complexity of inter-human relationships.

The story is about a Jewish girl that finds herself in a powerless situation in a war that tends to bring out the worst in all, 'good' or 'bad'. So much for what we know without seeing the film for ourselves. The film starts out rather typical, informing us with what we already new about the war: people where poor, hungry and trying to survive. However, the second part of the film shows a less well known part of Dutch resistance history: that the war brings out the worst in everybody. Without losing sight of the importance of the resistance against the foreign repression, Paul Verhoeven confuses his audience by visualizing how ones own well-being seems to go at the cost of the well-being of another. No black and white, no bad or good, but only the individual choice, that is tormented by the will to survive and a feeling for morality.

The film is daring for showing the dark side of the Dutch national history. However, the most valuable of the film is that it captivates its audience and sensitizes its audience for the misery of the historical event of World War II, but also the contemporary difficulties that affects human beings rather than countries. A must see, even though it makes you feel miserable.
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8/10
The best dutch production in 20-30 years
raven22-214 September 2006
I have been eagerly waiting to see 'Zwartboek' the past months. Finally it premiered in Holland today and i immediately rushed to cinema to be one of the first to see it. Beforehand i didn't watch any trailer nor read any review so i went in completely not knowing what to expect.

The movie starts a bit messy. Not knowing what it wants and where it wants to go. But as soon as things are set the roller-coaster ride begins. Carice and Sebastian are simply outstanding. Together they really carry the movie. The story however is predictable at times, but the awesome production quality (for dutch standards) and fast paced action really make up for it.

The overall message (which i will not give away) is something to think about. See the movie and judge for yourself.

I have heard this will be sent in for the Oscars. As much as i would want Paul to win i don't think it will happen. There will be other movies with a story less predictable and more surprising. However, my heart would want him to win this and walk out with a big figurative finger pointed at all them critics.

Zwartboek is in my opinion the best dutch production in 20-30 years, maybe even the best dutch movie since Soldier of Orange. It doesn't disappoint, it doesn't bore and it will give you a ride which you won't forget. It is also the breakthrough of Carice van Houten. Rave reviews from Venice compare her to Scarlett Johansson, but even better. Future will tell...

For now, go see this! And for Paul: please stay in Holland and make dutch cinema proud again.
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8/10
Verhoeven on top form
Chris_Docker30 January 2007
Director Paul Verhoeven's self-confessed aim is to combine art and business, appeal to a broad audience, and yet still have some endurance. The fame of films like Basic Instinct and Total Recall is lasting, yet they court criticism with their use of sexuality or by playing to the (easily dismissible) sci-fi genre. Graphic sex and violence are common in his movies and, when you add the occasional major flop such as Showgirls, the work of Verhoeven often fails to be taken seriously. Yet Black Book deserves respect. It is a wartime resistance movie on an epic scale, freed of the conventions of British and American war movies, yet bringing their typically high production values to a uniquely Dutch film.

Israel 1956. A Holy Land Tours bus stops off at a Kibbutz. One of the passengers recognises a teacher there, Rachel, from times they had shared during the war. As her friend leaves, Rachel thinks back to Holland in 1944. She was an accomplished cabaret singer but also Jewish. She was in hiding, waiting for the war to end. But chance misfortune means she has to try to make a getaway with some other Jewish people. They are ambushed, and she is almost shot. A little later she starts working for the resistance ('terrorists' as the Nazis call them) and infiltrates the Gestapo, seducing a high ranking officer called Muntze.

What follows is a frantic game of cat and mouse, espionage and counter-espionage. Rachel (now called Ellis) is torn between the horrors inflicted on her friends close-by and the elaborate deceits she tries to play to save them. Gradually it becomes clear that Muntze, anticipating the end of the war, is risking his neck to try to minimize death and suffering on both sides, and one or more of the resistance fighters is selling out to the Nazis to reap rich profits. Muntze, like Rachel, has had to overcome great losses. Their humanity is a bridge that brings them closer.

Rachel/Ellis is played by Carice van Houten, a leading actress of the Dutch screen. Her presence is luminous and charismatic (for British/American audiences, there is the curious sensation of watching someone unknown who radiates star quality with every breath). Her character has to adapt to many contrasting situations yet there is an underlying determination and fast thinking that shines through and makes such changes seem in character and unscripted. We share her emotional struggle and watch her pit her wits against the Gestapo (who are not exactly stupid). The movie is worth seeing for her performance alone.

On the one hand, the film has been minutely researched, based on actual events and characters; on the other it still has the slightly larger than life gloss we might associate, say, with a James Bond film. The escapes are in the nick of time, the sex scenes are steamy, and the plot twists increase exponentially as we get closer to the end.

Not content to portray the unique conditions of Holland during the occupation, Black Book goes on to catalogue post war atrocities and Rachel's eventual journey to Israel. The style and delivery will not appeal to everyone, but Black Book is Verhoeven on top form, delivering grand entertainment that shows his talents (and those of the remarkable Carice van Houten) at their finest.
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9/10
A fresh look about WWII
sbonator17 September 2006
I must admit that I don't like to watch dutch movies that much. Most of the time the acting is pretty bad and if they use some kind of cgi in the movies its one from the 1980's.

This movie really surprised me. Quite good acting from most of the actors. And the general view of the Alliance is good and the Germans are bad isn't presented. The movie shows both sides, the good the bad (and the ugly) behaviors of the people during the war.

Although he didn't have a very big budget to make this movie (between 16-20 million dollars) which is nothing for Hollywood matters, he'd made quite a good movie from it.

If you want to watch a movie about WWII that isn't like most of the movies made about this war, go and watch this one. You wont be bored for the next 2,5 hours.
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3/10
A women's film devoid of emotional impact
rowmorg12 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Black Book is a women's film, about a rich young Jewess, formerly a pop singer, trying to survive in Nazi-occupied Holland. Sadly, director Paul Verhoeven does not understand women and nor does he know how to convey emotion. A glance at his Hollywood CV would have warned the producers. The result is an empty depiction of events, in which the heroine Rachel (Carice Van Houten) acts like Robocop (an earlier Verhoeven effort). Along the way, we get some lingering shots of her tits and a few seconds of her bare bottom. Neither views suit a women's film, a signal that something is very wrong. The motivation of Verhoeven's heroine is contorted, as her family and lover are wiped out before her eyes and she makes a narrow blood-spattered escape, yet does not for a moment shed a tear for them, nor suspect the people who sent them to their fate. Instead, she has unmotivated sex with a resistance member before going into the Nazi headquarters and seducing the Gestapo chief, whom she treats with bizarrely sudden love and affection. Her ostensible purpose is to save three resistance men from torture. Instead, she places a microphone in the torturer's office, and she and her colleagues listen to him having noisy sex. Her motive fades even further into the background as Verhoeven makes a meal of the Nazi setting, presumably to appeal to his German market. This is a thoroughly unpleasant film made by a very cynical and sociopathic film-maker, and it deserves to be blasted into oblivion by the idiotic "Inglourious Basterds", which has the merit of being sheer fantasy and frank wish-fulfilment.
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8/10
Europe meets America
Aarkangel25 October 2006
A really interesting mix of American movie - driven by a strong narrative, complete with car chases and tense thriller moments - and European film - multilingual, with strong sense of historical moment and complex characterisation. The lead performance by Carice van Houten is compelling and charismatic. Overall the film does not amount to a big emotional experience - the centre of the emotion, however, is subtle and focused on the scenes of Ellis (the Jewish heroine, undercover among the Nazis) and Muntze (the German officer) in bed together. A complex and believable love develops between them which is the heart of the film. Great to see Verhoeven back in Europe on a project of passion, bringing back some American know-how to a fairly large scale film, albeit for a pretty modest budget (c$20M I believe).
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2/10
Very disappointing
antargas27 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I decided to watch this film because of the high IMDb rating and was very disappointed. Having recently re-watched "The Pianist", the contrast left "Black Book" looking very amateur and unconvincing. In the DVD extras, Paul Verhoeven claims to want to show wartime Holland and the resistance as it really was (supposedly he knows because he was 6 years old then), and to show the dilemmas between right and wrong on both sides. In fact, the shallow acting, pointless nudity and quite unrealistic story-line make this impossible.

For example, although there is a well-documented incident of the Germans executing two of their own deserters in a Canadian-run PoW camp in liberated Holland, the acting of a similar incident in "Black Book" is very shallow. The sight of the senior SS officer (Käutner) slamming the phone onto the Canadian's colonel's desk and daring him to phone his General to challenge the execution order is just laughable.

There are so many unconvincing moments in the film it is hard to know where to start. Here are just a couple:

  • why would Müntze be so naive as to go directly with Käutner to challenge Franken about the stolen Jewish valuables without first doing a proper investigation? Any senior officer worth his salt would have thought of that.


  • the emotional turmoil that someone like Rachel would feel while supposedly falling in love with an SS officer is hardly dealt with at all


Anyone looking for really worthwhile and historically accurate drama about the wartime resistance would do much better with the BBC TV series "Secret Army". This had a much lower budget but much better acting - especially the 3rd series, which includes exactly the themes which "Black Book" tries to handle (Belgian woman in love with a Gestapo officer; that same officer has a "good" German executed in a PoW camp)
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9/10
Unexpectedly Good Film
jeff-18758 April 2007
I seem to be the first in the US to comment on this film after having seen it at a regular theater.

There's no sense in talking about the movie's plot as so many others have already done so.

My fiancée is German and tends to be interested in those artsy foreign films. Tonight she decided we should go see this one. I'm glad we did.

I've seen a number of Paul Verhoeven's films and have found some of them quite entertaining, if a bit tacky and unrealistic. I wasn't expecting much from a Dutch film by a guy known for making big budget, tacky films.

I was pleasantly surprised by this film.

Yes, it most certainly IS a Paul Verhoeven film. Gratuitous nudity and violence seem to be his hallmarks and they're certainly not lacking. Do they detract from the movie? A little, but not enough to lose sight of the message of the film - or to make it any less enjoyable.

We had recently seen "The Lives of Others" which starred Sebastian Koch. It made his character oddly familiar. I'm certainly a fan of his after seeing his performance in both of these movies.

As for Carice van Houten... well, one of the marks of a true STAR is that you just can't take your eyes off of him or her. It isn't just beauty; there are plenty of beautiful women in the world who don't possess that same star quality. It isn't just talent, either; there are many very talented actresses out there who just don't draw you in in the same way. Carice van Houten has it all: she's beautiful in a very real way and an amazing talent - and has that something special that makes you look at her every second she's on screen. I hope the directors of the world take note of her because she deserves the stardom she has exhibited in this film.

It is good to see a film that depicts how the hunted can easily turn into the hunter. My fiancée's mother was a young girl during WWII who's family lived in Poland (near Gdansk aka Danzig). Towards the end of the war, they were forced to leave their home in fear for their lives - both from the advancing Russians and the local Poles exacting revenge for what other Germans had done. The film said it in a slightly different sentence, but it is right in bringing across the message that people seem to never learn: that it is NEVER right to hurt others no matter what they might have done in the past.

I wonder if Paul Verhoeven's family is Jewish because he really seems to identify with the never ending succession of attacks against the Jewish people. It saddens me that only ONE other review even mentioned the scene at the end where Rachel's community (in Israel) was being attacked. Part of the film's message is that we seemed doomed to repeat our inhumanity to our fellow man.

Was this a perfect movie? Certainly not. Is it a masterpiece ala "Schindler's List" or "Full Metal Jacket" or "Saving Private Ryan?" Probably not. But I'll say that in the several hours since I've seen it, I can't stop thinking about it. And I certainly enjoyed every minute of that 2-1/2 hour film while watching it. I'd watch it again if I had it on DVD.
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9/10
impressive
willembaars29 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The first movie of Paul Verhoeven since more than 20 years could only turn out to be a disappointment. But fortunately it is not. It is a very impressive and exciting and dramatic story of a Jewish girl that gets involved in the Resistance-movement in World War 2. When she wants to escape the Germans she finds her family killed in front of her eyes. She is rescued and becomes an important member of the Dutch Resistance. She has to act like a spy at the headquarters of the SD and even has to sleep with the head of the SD, who happens to turn out to be the only good German in the movie. I won't tell you what happens, but the movie gives a very good impression of the terrors of war, what people do in these circumstances, the thin line between good and bad and betrayal. The movie was beautifully shot and Carice van Houten is incredible in this movie. Zwartboek is a typical Paul Verhoeven-movie with some nudity and heavy in your face-scenes and provocative and unexpected things that happen. Zwartboek could be the winner of the Oscars for foreign movies next year as far as I am concerned. Also a special credit for the German actor who plays general Franken. Go and see Zwartboek (Black Book): it's a movie that will keep you thinking for quite some while
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Diary of a survivor
Harry T. Yung28 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Coming from the director of "Robocop", "Total recall", "Basic instinct" and "Hollow man", this movie has more of the hallmark of a spy thriller than a holocaust epic. While billed as "based on true events", an assertion that is so vague that invites unabashed overuse, this movie comes with such a proliferation of twists that it epitomizes the cliché "truth is stranger than fiction". Still, the basic plot is quite simple, and as universal as "Star wars" – good against evil. The good is the Dutch underground resistance during Nazi occupation. The evil is a loose organization that rounds up and kills Jews, where racial motivation is only secondary, if at all. They don't kill any Jew, but only rich Jews, for obvious reasons. The tantalizing suspense is in the guessing and then revelation of the villains, one after another.

Those who remember "Basic instinct" (and who wouldn't?) will know of course that suspense is not director Paul Verhoeven's only trump card. At 68, he can still deliver the sensual lure you expect, through the protagonist Rachel, a "Greta Garbo" of a young Jewish singer who, after her rich family was killed by the villains mentioned above, joins the underground resistance – ready, willing and able to "go all the way" in vindication. Fresh-looking, mesmerizing young Dutch actress Carice van Houten has both the physical endowment and emotion acting range to give a memorable performance. Playing opposite her, as a Nazi officer who still has a heart, is Sebasitan Koch, who is equally memorable, not in this movie, but in his recent appearance in the Oscar winning German movie "The live of others".

Watching "Black book" will not give you the sense of artistic elation you get after watching "Schindler's list" (and even that one some consider to be too commercialized), but is nevertheless 145 minutes of good entertainment.
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10/10
a must see !
myosotis753 December 2006
I just saw the movie and I loved it, the actors are fantastic, especially Carice Van Houten, who really carries the movie. I'd never seen her in a movie before and she is quite a revelation, I really hope to see more of her.

As for Verhoeven, his come-back to the Netherlands paid off. The production is flawless, the action scenes are very well done, and he brings out the best of his cast. The movie captures perfectly the madness of the time, you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys,there is nothing manipulative or Manichean in this movie,everything is not black and white. Not all Germans are monsters, the resist ants can be assholes and heroes lonely people who just try to survive.
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7/10
lots of Nazi resistance-fighting intrigue, an ideal cast, good but bulky thriller
MisterWhiplash29 April 2007
Paul Verhoven isn't ever known so much for subtlety as a director, and Black Book doesn't really make any big steps to change that. It is, unlike his films from the past dozen or so years, not intentionally sleazy or overridden with lots of gruesome carnage. There's even a sense that he's probably quite passionate about making a film loaded with gripping history and lots of 'cinematic' characters (not totally real, not totally fake either). But it's also one where melodrama reigns over real incisive dramatic skills, and unlike the recently re-released Army of Shadows there's almost an exhausting quality to the twists and turns, the core being more about direct audience manipulation as opposed to more subdued theatrics. Not that this is the worst thing a director like Verhoven can do, and Black Book is loaded with the kind of entertaining goodies that other directors would shy away from. That it's not a great film- like it might think it is- is hard to ignore.

Carice Van Houten puts in a breakthrough performance (breakthrough in that it calls for some greater things for her in Hollywood) as a Jewish woman who loses her family during a shooting via the Nazis. She joins up with the resistance, and her part in it will be, primarily, to sleep with enemy to get information. A little implausible? Not quite, as it's supposedly based on true events (whether it was a Jewish woman sleeping with the enemy or just in the little details of the Dutch resistance is up for argument), and soon the story unfolds in double-crosses and criss-crosses where you're never too sure after a while (and after the war ends) who's really a good guy or not, as for the most part few are. In general, Verhoven puts these double crosses- which end up making the film slightly bulkier than it needs to be- as a cynical but poignant point about loss of trust and all morals in times of war coming to a head. Rachel "Ellis" Stein (Van Houten) also falls into what the script entails, of her falling in love with the main commanding officer she has to sleep with, which is rather circumspect in logical terms.

But then again, after a while, looking at Black Book, ironically for it's veneer being that of an old-fashioned good versus evil story, things become subversive for a reason. The resistance itself, for example, is quite corruptible even with its higher ideals of eradicating all of the Nazis (the ugly side of which personified in the character of the portly Franken, who originally killed Rachel's family), and even have a double side to dealing with the Jewish people; does one value a Dutchman over a Jew becomes one of the central questions for the resistance fighters. And throughout Verhoven is on top of his game directing scenes strongly, with just what is needed for each scene, however convoluted, and the performances usually right on the money (The Lives of Others' Sebastian Koch is a believable Nazi turncoat). It is, more often than not, a satisfying entry in the filmmaker's career, and even a return to form after running out of steam with his big Hollywood sci-fi productions. That it's also quite shallow, and with more than one or two really ridiculous scenes (one scenes subtext might be 'is that a gun popping under the bed, or are you just happy to see me?'), is maybe to be expected considering the track record of the filmmaker.
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10/10
So Compellingly Good I Saw It Twice in a Week
dl-249 July 2007
It's hard to overstate what a superb film "Black Book" is. Thanks to the excellent reviews the Chicago papers gave it, I sauntered off to see it without my wife who foolishly dismissed it as "another Holocaust film" (that's as off-base as calling "Freedom Writers" "another school teacher inspirational film). After being blown away by "Black Book," it was easy to persuade my wife to see it a week later -- and she too was blown away. You're best off not knowing much of the plot -- this film takes twists and turns that amaze and astound. The less you know about it, the better. Let's just say that the writing, plotting, direction, and acting are all top notch -- better than any other film I've seen all year. No scene is wasted. "Black Book" is one of those films where something that happens early on comes back as an important plot point later in the film. So while you're enjoying this wild roller-coaster emotional ride, pay attention to the details and what people say -- because not a word is wasted.

"Black Book" is simply film making at its best. There are some darn good reasons that "Black Book" is still playing in several Chicago theaters nearly 4 months after its release.
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6/10
entertaining but often preposterous war movie
Roland E. Zwick29 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Black Book" may be based on a true story, but it often plays more like a corny wartime melodrama than a serious film about war. Suffice it to say, it has a lot of beautiful and glamorous people running around doing a lot of cloak-and-dagger espionage stuff - all while changing the course of history. That's not to say it isn't an enjoyable and entertaining picture, just that it doesn't rank up there in artistry and truth with the great European films about the Fascist era, classics like "Open City," "Forbidden Games," "The Shop on Main Street," "Das Boot," etc. When you boil it down to the bare essentials, the theme of "Black Book" seems to be that there's nothing like a little hair coloring and a bar of chocolate to help an attractive young girl survive the horrors of war.

Rachel Stein is a beautiful Jewish singer whose entire family is mowed down by the Nazis as they are fleeing occupied Holland (Rachel and her family are Germans currently hiding out in the Netherlands). As the sole survivor of the attack, Rachel quickly becomes active in the Dutch resistance, her assignment being to cozy up to a high-ranking Gestapo officer who has taken a liking to her. Soon she finds herself not only in bed with the Nazi but quite possibly in love with him as well.

Paul Verhoeven has directed the film much in the style of his big-scale Hollywood productions ("Robocop," "Total Recall") - that is to say with a great deal of energy but not a lot of emotion. The convoluted storyline often becomes muddled and difficult to follow, but Verhoeven compensates for this weakness by keeping the proceedings moving at a breakneck pace (which is a good thing since the film takes an exhausting two hours and twenty-five minutes to tell its story). Unfortunately, the movie has been fitted with a musical score that sounds as if it has been lifted from some third-rate espionage thriller from the 1960's. Carice van Houten has brio and spunk as the movie's heroine, running around from one dire predicament and hairbreadth escape to another - she's almost like a Dutch version of the perpetually imperiled Pauline - but most of the other actors simply get lost in the shuffle. And if you've ever doubted that chocolate is, indeed, the answer to all of life's problems, you will never do so again after seeing this movie.

I must say that, even though I enjoyed the film immensely, "Black Book" is probably the first serious film about Nazis that actually had me chuckling at wholly inappropriate places (some of the actors even hold their guns in a funny way). "Black Book" may be a Dutch film by rights, but it's strictly from Hollywood in its silliness and corn.
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10/10
Verhoeven Is Back In Form
Seamus282929 April 2007
I just saw this film earlier today & was blown out of my shoes by it. Black Book (or Zwartboek,as it's called in Europe)is directed & co written by Paul Verhoeven (with Gerard Soetman,who collaborated with Verhoeven on many screenplays for films in his native Holland). If you've ever seen their earlier film 'Soldier Of Orange', you'll know what I mean. Like 'Orange', the film clocks in at near two & a half hours, but there's not a dull moment in store. This makes up for the load of Hollywood crap that Verhoeven has been responsible for since he drifted over here (even his last European film, 'Flesh & Blood',left a lot to be desired for). The film deals with a young Dutch woman of Jewish background that joins the resistance to fight the Nazi's. I would have to say that this is a film well worth seeking out (provided you have no problem with two plus hours of dialog in Dutch,German & even Hebrew with subtitles).
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6/10
Definitely worth seeing
santegeezhe14 September 2006
I saw this film last night at the Toronto International Film Festival and enjoyed it quite a bit. I wouldn't describe it as excellent, but it's definitely entertaining, and my interest never waned despite the nearly 2.5 hour length.

The film concerns one young Jewish woman's attempt to stay alive during WWII by any means necessary. Through a series of allegiances which shift with dizzying speed, she does whatever she has to do to survive.

Without giving away any plot details, I'll briefly describe my impressions of the film. The lead actress was great - not only is she stunningly beautiful, but she completely made the movie for me. She's very easy on the eyes, and proves to be a remarkable actress, completely believable and sympathetic.

The plot moved along swiftly and never lost momentum, although the ever-shifting loyalties and allegiances became overwhelming after a while. Having said that however, the plot did seem a bit predictable and obvious to me, a sort of paint-by-numbers approach to script writing. I didn't find it very suspenseful, although our heroine is such a sympathetic character that I found myself rooting for her throughout, wondering how she'd make it through (since the film is one long flashback, one already knows she'll make it).

For a European film it was surprisingly Hollywoodesque, with lots of gratuitous violence and nudity - although I didn't mind the nudity. There were a few scenes which seemed particularly gratuitous and unnecessary: two words - "shit bucket". But luckily these didn't distract too much from the plot.

All in all it was an above average movie and well worth seeing if you're a fan of WWII films and don't mind watching a beautiful young woman light up the screen for two hours or so.
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8/10
Historically good, but...
VicWhy8 July 2007
Although mostly a downer, I thoroughly enjoyed this film except for one stinging implausibility: that of the liberating Canadian Colonel cooperating with German General Käutner.

After Canadians experienced Nazi 'honor' via Dieppe, Ortona, the Abbey Ardenne, the Battle for the Scheldt Estuary, and seeing the starved Dutch people, I find it impossible to believe that a Canadian officer would respect such a pre-capitulation order by a defeated Nazi scum.

Other than this incongruity, the film's depiction of the mixed and often ephemeral allegiances of a many Dutch civilians, the double-crossing by some, the idealism of others, in the nightmare vortex of Nazi occupation was certainly illuminating.

I wonder if citizens of my own country, Canada, would do any better when faced by such a tragic situation as those of the Netherlands experienced in the five full years from May 10, 1940 to May 5, 1945.
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9/10
Tight Romantic Thriller
timbermisc22 April 2007
If you like "Casablanca", you will like "Black Book".

If you are interested in WWII movies, you will be pleased with "Black Book". Subtitles do not distract from your understanding of this movie. Yes, violence is present.

Immediately I fell into this movie although I was 20 minutes late for it. I certainly reminded me of Hollywood movies of the 1940s sans the out of focus halos around the heroine. Colors are rich and sharp here compared to Hollywood's black and white versions of WWII events. And you may wonder how they found these derelict buildings seen in the film.

I think that some comparison to "The Pianist" is fair. We are viewing survival methods of a women who is also a spy. We follow her inner conflicts and loyalties during WWII as she represents "the resistance". Sex play is contained therein as she manipulates the right people.

If I sound cool, you're right. But this is a film loaded with action, conflict, comparisons to Greta Garbo, violence, romantic style, and vulgar displays of human incarceration. This may be called a romantic thriller. And strangely, we feel a little empathy for a Guestoppo who manages to submit to the lures of the leading romantic lady who is also a Heb and a spy. (spoiler) The violence is "normal" Nazi machine gunning and two people get a hatchet in the face in the last days of the war. And do those Nazi's look real.(end of spoiler) After 2.5 hours, I felt satisfied, never bored. And I felt as if I had learned more of history. I appreciated the sacrifices of the "Resistance Fighters" during WWII. Based upon a true story.
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7/10
Sex and violence aren't enough for a film without meaning
Linda7 May 2007
No question, this is one gripping film. It was hard to believe 2:25 hours had passed, in contrast to the several glances of the watch in about the same amount of time during Spiderman, wishing it would be over.

There are high production values. Many millions of Euros or dollars went into blowing up things and make-up for bullet wounds, not to mention the large hanging vat of human feces. Now why would they have suspended it to the ceiling other than for the dramatic value in the script? The suspended scheisse is a metaphor for the plausibility of most of the movie. Good fiction makes sense. Having a strong cast won't carry a shaky script. Director/screenwriter Paul Verhoeven has good command for the sensational, potboiler (Robocop, Showgirls, Basic Instinct), but he is out of his element when he tries to make a definitive statement on the cooperation of Holland's citizens with the Nazis. The reality in Holland as in France as is in the U.S. when power changes from one major political party to the other, some people can land on their feet and get along and go along.

We think that of Rachel/Ellis a few times, but she shows her true feelings at least twice: when she throws up in the beginning of her deception and later when she threatens to quit the Resistance if a betraying Dutch police inspector isn't removed from his office. Carice van Houten is eye-grabbing as the endangered Jewish gamine, Rachel Weiss, who later gives herself an all-over hair bleaching to look Teutonic. She has wonderful chemistry with the affable local Gestapo chief Sebastian Koch, who doesn't even raise his voice. The two live together in real life.

The double and triple crosses are worthy of Hitchcock, but near the end there are several accusations made, and they are not all resolved, particularly one against the Resistance leader Gerben Kuiypers, whose son Timothy was captured.

So many plot points were not worthy of belief: How could a bullet coming from the front just graze Rachel/Ellis forehead and then heal so quickly without a scar?

How did Rachel/Ellis get so good a command of German? There are several good incidents of plot foreshadowing, but this isn't one of them. If Muntze is that suspicious of Ellis why doesn't he have her followed when she goes "home" to get clothes? How could so great a guy as Muntze rise to head to Gestapo in Holland after operations in Poland and France?

How could Resistance member and doctor Hans Akkermans (Thom Hoffman)survive so many fire fights even though he shoots without cover, certainly rank-and-file Gestapo couldn't have been trusted with the knowledge?

How could Muntze after presumably hearing a full confession from Ellis trust her to continue to work in a sensitive position in Gestapo headquarters? How could Hans have become so silent so quickly when he had been so forceful, heart attack for a man presumably in his late 30s to 40?

Whose side was Ronnie on in arranging the final jail break, of Muntze and Ellis? How does Ronnie keep from getting her head shaved by the mob as a Nazi whore?

Why would attorney Smaal keep such detailed records in his black book, which could have been a ticket to execution for him and his wife if it had fallen in Nazi hands? And why doesn't Verhoeven ever put a gun in Ellis'/Rachel's hand when she is in mortal danger?

Sex and violence makes the time of the movie go quickly, but leave the viewer unsatisfied after its over. There needs to be meaning, too.
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