Combustible Celluloid
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With: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries, Peter Blok, Michiel Huisman, Ronald Armbrust, Frank Lammers, Matthias Schoenaerts, Johnny de Mol, Xander Straat, Diana Dobbelman
Written by: Paul Verhoeven, Gerard Soeteman
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, graphic nudity, sexuality and language
Language: Dutch, German, English, Hebrew, with English subtitles
Running Time: 145
Date: 09/01/2006

Black Book (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

War Chords

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Paul Verhoeven's latest film is a radical departure from his Hollywood genre films, but not that radical. It starts as yet another World War II film showing the insidious behavior of the Nazis as well as the cunning of the terrified, persecuted Jews. But the new film, which is "inspired by a true story" and set in the waning months of the war, then takes a unique turn as a former Jewish popular singer, the beautiful Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), joins the resistance.

She disguises herself as blond Ellis de Vries, infiltrates Nazi headquarters and becomes the mistress of SS officer Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). Unfortunately, she does not so easily influence his colleague Günther Franken (Waldemar Kobus). She winds up framed for the deaths of her colleagues, and unable to prove her allegiance to the good guys.

Oddly, Verhoeven's highly subversive Starship Troopers (1997) took the mindset behind WWII to much more disturbing new levels, even if most viewers missed the point. Clocking in at 145 minutes, Verhoeven clearly wants this new film to be his Schindler's List, but at the same time he allows his instincts to rule. He crafts a surprisingly tense and exciting thrill ride, a cruel case of twisted fate nearly worthy of Fritz Lang.

Like Verhoeven's best Hollywood films, Black Book has a smooth, clean surface and a brisk, fluid pace. And, like his previous heroines Jennifer Jason Leigh (Flesh & Blood), Nancy Allen (Robocop) and Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct), he has created another strong female centerpiece with van Houten, whose brave performance seals the deal.

Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman's overly polished script could have been a bit looser; every single image and line of dialogue foreshadows some future twist. (If someone mentions chocolate, you can bet that chocolate becomes important to the plot.) Regardless, Verhoeven has succeeded in injecting a bit of energy into this tired genre, and that's a major achievement.

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